The Supreme Court on Friday ruled the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) had no power to examine and decide questions on the regulations set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). Challenging the regulations was in the jurisdiction of high courts.
This judgment was by a Bench on a large number of appeals moved by state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), Tata Teleservices and Reliance Infocomm. Each was affected in various ways by the TDSAT orders involving regulations set by Trai.
Trai had, in July 2010, filed a petition to the court noting TDSAT was not authorised to hear an appeal against its regulations.
Trai gives regulations on issues like rates, inter-connection and quality of service.
The Trai Act was changed by an ordinance from January 24, 2000, establishing TDSAT to take over the adjudicatory and dispute functions. According to the Trai site, TDSAT was set up to adjudicate any dispute between a licensor and a licensee, between two or more service providers, between a service provider and a group of consumers, and to hear and dispose appeals against a direction, decision or order of Trai.
Trai had filed the petition before the Supreme Court in July 2010, following a TDSAT order asking the regulator to take a fresh look on the telecommunication interconnection (port charges) Amendment regulation 2007, in which Trai had reduced port charges by about 23-29 per cent on various slabs. TDSAT's order came based on a petition by state-run telecom service provider Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) on the matter.
Earlier in 2006, Trai had filed a petition before the Delhi High Court, challenging an order by TDSAT in January 2005, in which the tribunal had said that it has jurisdiction to "examine the vires of a regulation".
Trai, in its petition requesting the Supreme Court to transfer a petition filed by it in the Delhi High Court in 2006, said: "TDSAT is authorised only to hear and dispose of appeal against any direction, decision or order of the petitioner (Trai) under the Trai Act, 1997, and there is no provision to hear appeal against regulations framed by Trai in the exercise of its power under section 36 of the Act."
Coai director general Rajan Mathews said that this might lead to a situation where settlements of disputes would take much more time. "There are many high courts and they may have multiple opinions. Even after that, these cases may go to the Supreme Court. TDSAT was a single-window solution for the telcos," he added.