Lobby group COAI seeks legal help against RJio charges

The Cellular Operators Association of India already seems to have made up its mind and its administrative head characterized the allegations as ‘bunkum’


The charges and the counters are part of the marketplace battle between Reliance Jio and incumbent telcos. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
The charges and the counters are part of the marketplace battle between Reliance Jio and incumbent telcos. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The Cellular Operators Association of India, or COAI, the industry lobby of all telcos providing mobile telephony services, has asked its lawyers to address allegations that it is violating the Societies Act raised by Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJio).

The lobby group, however, already seems to have made up its mind and its administrative head characterized the allegations as “bunkum”.

The charges and the counters are part of the marketplace battle between Reliance Jio and incumbent telcos. Reliance, which is itself a member of COAI, has claimed the others, especially market leader Bharti Airtel, are trying to sabotage its launch by not providing enough points of interconnection (PoIs), which help people call across networks, and not allowing their subscribers to leave their networks and move to Reliance’s.

COAI, which is seen as representing the interests of the three largest, and oldest, telcos (Bharti, Vodafone, and Idea), is registered as a society under the Societies Registration Act of 1860 and Reliance said last week it was violating the regulations set by Supreme Court for the Board for Control of Cricket in India—also set up as a society.

Reliance Jio, in a letter dated 23 September, addressed to COAI chairman and Bharti Airtel chief executive—Gopal Vittal—and director-general Rajan Mathews, sought an overhaul and amendment of the lobby’s regulations and processes and said the grouping followed an unfair voting pattern with leading telcos having an upper hand over the others.

“It is not ‘one vote per core member’ when any matter comes up for voting by members of the executive council. The core member’s voting rights of the constituents in the executive council vary based on its adjusted gross revenues, with maximum number of votes per core member capped at 7,” the letter said.

The letter referred to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular as incumbent dominant operators (IDO) and alleged COAI regulations are “biased and lopsided” to serve the interests of IDOs.

The letter further questioned the validity of COAI regulations in light of Societies Registration Act, 1860, under which every member is to have one vote and also cited a recent judgement by the Supreme Court in a BCCI case that said every member must have one vote.

“We will have our legal counsel take a look into the legal points raised by Reliance Jio. BCCI matter was totally different. The legal counsel will tell us all of this is bunkum. When we (COAI) were set up, it was structured and reviewed by legal people and we are in compliance with legal requirements. I think Reliance is getting upset with the way COAI has opposed to them regarding certain issues, POIs, launch of service and giving freebies,” said COAI’s Mathews.

On Sunday, COAI issued a statement rebutting Reliance Jio’s allegations and calling it a back door operator (BDO).

“We should hear from the legal counsel in a day or two, and if we are in compliance of the guidelines and laws; if we are complying with Societies Act and if the so-called BCCI ruling is applicable to us,” he added.

Mathews further said Reliance Jio was aware of the terms, conditions and functioning of the association at the time of becoming its member.

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