The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) today asked private operators, who are opposing the DoT directive to scrap their 3G roaming pacts, to explain as to how they would compensate the government if they lose the case.
"If this petition is dismissed, is there any way the government can be compensated and [if then] how," asked the TDSAT bench headed by Justice SB Sinha.
The tribunal has sought their submissions by tomorrow, when the hearing resumes.
Meanwhile, senior counsel CS Vaidyanathan and Ramji Srinivasan representing Tata Teleservices suggested to the tribunal that "a separate licence fee could be paid" to DoT to compensate for its losses.
In an interim order on December 24, TDSAT had directed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) not to take any coercive action against the operators for their 3G roaming pacts.
The telecom tribunal's question followed government's submission that due to interim protection granted to the telecom firms, the government as well as the state-owned BSNL are suffering losses.
The operators contended that there would be no loss to DoT on the revenue front by the roaming pact as the telecom firms are paying licence fee to the government under the revenue-share mechanism.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Sighvi, representing Vodafone, said it does not require a new licence for providing 3G services in the circles where they have not bid.
Seeking continuation of the interim order, Singhvi said the DoT's roaming policy is licence-based, and not spectrum based, and all such bilateral pacts between operators for inter/intra-circle roaming are allowed.
This view was opposed by the Additional Solicitor General AS Chandiok, appearing for DoT, submitted that intra-circle roaming was allowed for 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands of 2G spectrum, but not for 2.1 GHz of 3G.
He said that their licence conditions allow them roaming on 2G spectrum but not for 3G services and hence the pact among them was illegal.
Adding to it, Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha, appearing for BSNL, said that operators who have not even bid for 3G spectrum in certain circles are providing 3G services by illegally sharing spectrum and are taking away its subscriber.
Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Aircel and Tata Tele moved TDSAT against DoT's December 23 directive to stop roaming on 3G bandwidth within 24 hours.
This was challenged by the operators before the tribunal within few hours and next day on December 24, TDSAT gave them interim protection.