New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has asked the department of telecommunications (DoT) to amend the law governing it to give the watchdog the powers to penalize, frustrated at being just a recomendatory agency that’s unable to enforce rules.
“We have moved a proposal around two weeks ago and it is pending with the department,” a Trai official said, requesting anonymity.
“A number of issues have come up in the last 12 years where there are different readings and intepretations of the law. This has led to a huge number of cases pending in the various courts, including the Supreme Court and high courts, and this is not letting us take any decisions,” the official said.
He said the telecom regulator has asked for powers to enforce rules as well as prosecute and penalize offenders. After 15 years of existence, Trai has enough experience, the official said.
“There have to be clear demarcation of roles between TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal) and Trai, as you cannot have Trai issuing regulations and then remain unable to enforce them because there are not enough provisions in the law,” the official added. However, he maintained that at this point, it is unclear what Trai can regulate and what it can’t.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) proposing that the act governing it be amended to give the watchdog the powers to penalise, frustrated at being just a recomendatory agency that’s unable to enforce rules
The official gave the example of interconnection charges on which a three-year-old Trai ruling is yet to come into effect as the operators have got a stay on the order.
A decision on the 9 March 2009 Trai ruling was again deferred by the Supreme Court on 10 July 2012. The bench hearing the case directed it to a larger bench for hearing, indefinitely delaying the issue. The Trai order had reduced interconnection usage charges to Rs 0.20 per minute for local calls against the prevailing Rs 0.30.
This was challenged by the older operators in TDSAT. After many adjournments, TDSAT finally took a decision on the issue on 29 September 2010. The operators appealed against this in the Supreme Court in October 2010. Trai even tried, in vain, to notify the regulation in November 2011.
The Telecom Commission had approved a proposal to give Trai the power to summon companies and individuals, call for evidence, and even seek expert advice while conducting an enquiry, Mint had reported on 12 March 2012. The commission is the highest telecom policy decision-making body in the country.
The proposal was part of the draft National Telecom Policy 2012 (NTP2012). This document lays out the general direction with targets and objectives, based on which the government is expected to frame the telecom policy for the coming decade. However, the Union cabinet removed this from NTP2012 when the policy was approved on 30 June.
Trai has no penal or provisional powers, though the Telecom Commission had approved a proposal on the need to give the regulator such teeth in the draft NTP2012, which was set aside by the cabinet.
The Trai official said there has to be a graded form of financially penalizing the operators. Only after it’s convinced about the breach in rules should Trai look into prosecution, he added.
Giving Trai the power to punish will remove a grey area as the regulator is currently not able to carry out the task it has been given and be effective, he said. TDSAT does not have the expertise to deal with certain issues, especially those requiring economic consideration, the official said.
“I do believe Trai has to be given the powers to carry out its mandate, especially when it comes to economic issues, which TDSAT does not have the expertise to handle,” said Mahesh Uppal, a telecom regulatory expert and director with ComFirst India Pvt. Ltd.