In a relief to cellular operators Idea, Airtel and Vodafone India, the Bombay High Court has set aside a Competition Commission of India (CCI) order directing a probe against them on complaints of "cartelisation" made by Reliance Jio.
In an order yesterday, a bench of Justices Anoop Mohta and Bharati Dangre ruled that the CCI had "no jurisdiction" to interpret contract conditions or policies of the telecom sector which was governed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act and hence, to order a probe in the case.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by Idea Cellular, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and the Cellular Operators Association of India seeking that the CCI order passed on April 21 this year, directing an investigation by its Director General into allegations of cartelisation made by Reliance Jio, be quashed or set aside.
Earlier this year, Reliance Jio had lodged a complaint with the CCI alleging that the three cellular operators had colluded with each other to prevent it from building its customer base.
Reliance Jio's counsel had told the Bombay High Court that the existing cellular operators had delayed its procurement of interconnection points that help facilitate calls and hence, "calls made by its customers to the networks of the rivals were failing".
The operators, however, had denied the allegations. They had challenged the CCI's probe order, arguing that it was erroneous.
Reliance Jio had also questioned the Bombay High Court's jurisdiction and said that the case must be heard by the Delhi High Court since the CCI order was passed in Delhi.
The bench, however, ruled that the Bombay High Court had "territorial jurisdiction to deal and decide the challenges so raised" against the CCI's order.
"The Competition Act governs the anticompetitive agreements and its effects. It cannot be used to interpret such contract conditions/policies of the telecom sector or industry that arise out of the Telegraph Act, and the TRAI Act.
"The Authority under the Competition Act (CCI) has no jurisdiction to decide upon or deal with statutory agreements. Every aspect of the telecom sector is to be governed by the concerned department of the government keeping in mind the need and technology under the TRAI Act. Hence, there is no question of initiating proceedings under the Competition Act in this case," the bench said.
"The impugned order dated April 21, 2017, passed by the Competition Commission of India under the provisions of the Competition Act, and all consequential actions/notices of its Director General are quashed and set aside," it said.