The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a September 2017 order of the Bombay High Court, quashing Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) probe into allegations of cartelisation by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. Vodafone India and Idea Cellular have since merged to form Vodafone Idea.
The CCI had in January moved the top court after the Bombay high court had quashed the investigation ordered by the fair trade regulator into charges of cartelisation against the three companies. The probe against the firms was ordered by the CCI in April 2017, after the then entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm had complained that Airtel, Vodafone and Idea had formed a cartel and were not providing it enough points of interconnection (PoI).
The high court had, however, set aside the CCI order for probe and said that the fair trade regulator could exercise its jurisdiction only after proceedings against the said telecom companies had been concluded by either a competent authority or the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) according to the provisions of the Telecom Regulatory Authority (Trai) Act.
“Every majority decision cannot be termed as ‘cartelisation’,” the high court had then said. Jio, since starting its trial and full-fledged services in 2016 had repeatedly complained that Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular were not giving it enough PoIs, which had resulted in call drops on its network. It had also complained against the three companies to the Trai.
Acting on Jio’s complaints, Trai conducted an enquiry and in October 2016 recommended to the department of telecom that a fine of Rs500 million per local service area should be imposed on the three firms for failing to adhere to its norms. Apart from that, it had also recommended a fine of Rs190,000 on Idea Cellular for rejection of mobile number portability requests to Jio’s networks.
Though the DoT had in 2017 asked Trai to reconsider its recommendations, the telecom regulator had remained firm on its stance that the three telecom operators had intentionally denied and delayed giving PoIs to Jio. Vodafone India has moved the Delhi high court against the fine imposed on it, while Idea Cellular has approached the same court against Trai’s Rs190,000 penalty recommendation. Both the matters are pending before the court.