Centre opposes Vodafone’s plea against Trai’s bid to impose Rs1,050-crore penalty
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New Delhi: The Centre on Tuesday opposed a plea by Vodafone Mobile Services Ltd challenging a penalty of Rs50 crore per telecom circle recommended by the telecom regulator against the company.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) suggested the penalty on grounds that the company had violated terms and conditions relating to points of interconnection among service providers.
With a presence in 21 telecom circles, Vodafone would be liable to pay a total penalty of Rs1,050 crore if the recommendation is accepted.
“Since the role of Trai is advisory, what material does the telecom company have to show that the Centre’s decision would be clouded by the recommendation seeking to impose penalty,” said additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain, appearing on behalf of the Centre.
He added that the plea was premature at this stage since the recommendation was merely advisory in nature and no decision had been taken based on it.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva, who was hearing the matter, directed the Centre to file a short affidavit within two weeks and limit it to the question of maintainability of the suit.
Trai’s recommendation was made to the department of telecommunications (DoT) on 21 October and is based on a complaint by Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, which alleged that Vodafone had refused to comply with interconnection norms.
The regulator also recommended a Rs50 crore-per circle penalty on Bharti Airtel Ltd, which operates in 21 telecom zones, and Idea Cellular Ltd that has a presence in 19, Mint reported on 22 October.
Trai issued a show-cause notice to Vodafone for non-compliance with interconnection service norms on 27 September and gave the company 10 days to respond. It held a meeting in this connection on 30 September.
Vodafone had told the court that Trai had compromised on principles of natural justice by holding the meeting before the 10-day response period had elapsed.
Seeking a stay on the recommendation, Vodafone submitted that there was nothing in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, that permitted imposition of the penalty, and added that it was entirely “arbitrary and unconstitutional”.
Vodafone also pointed out in the earlier hearing that imposition of such penalty was not covered under the Quality of Service (QoS) regulations which allow a maximum fine of Rs50,000 for failure to meet service conditions.
The matter will be heard next on 6 February.