TDSAT has no power to hear 3G plea: DoT
The telecom ministry questioned the jurisdiction of tribunal TDSAT on entertaining the petitions of five telecom operators, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, challenging the government’s directive to stop 3G roaming agreements.
The development came even as the tribunal began hearing operators’ petition challenging the government’s recent move to declare 3G roaming pacts between mobile operators illegal. For operators, the tribunal extended relief till January 9, the next date of hearing, implying that the roaming deals can continue till then.
Telecom department’s legal counsel additional solicitor general AS Chandiok on Tuesday cited a recent judgement of the Supreme Court that mentions that the tribunal could not entertain petitions on altering terms of telecoms licence. DoT said it would file separate application in this regard within the day after the tribunal asked it to do so.
Operators will have to reply to this application by Friday, January 9, which has been kept as the next date of hearing for the case. Government-owned BSNL requested the tribunal to make it a party to the case since it would be affected by the outcome of the case.
TDSAT chairman Justice SB Sinha said BSNL’s inclusion would be decided once preliminary issues raised by the DoT are resolved. On December 24, mobile phone companies then obtained a stay on the DoT order from the Telecom Dispute Settlement & Appellate Tribunal.
On December 23, last year, the DoT issued notices to the telcos ordering them to stop these services offered on these pacts within 24 hours. Mobile phone companies then obtained a stay on the DoT order from TDSAT even as they slammed the government of reneging on promises with “retrograde”, “irrational” and “illegal” decisions. The department of telecoms on Monday lashed out at leading telcos, accusing these companies of ‘suppressing material documents’ and also alleging they had ‘not come with clean hands’ on the 3G roaming issue.
Further intensifying the bitter war of words between the industry and the government , DoT had alleged that the telcos had not submitted required documents. The operators replied that they had submitted their agreements in a seal cover before the tribunal, and were not supposed to give it to DoT.
However, TDSAT said that DoT’s counsel could inspect the agreements. Earlier last year, operators, such as Bharti, Idea, Vodafone, Tata Teleservices and Aircel, entered into 3G roaming deals, enabling them to sign up 3G customers across the country even in areas where they did not have third-generation spectrum.
These pacts allowed them to use each others’ airwaves and offer 3G services such as video calling and high-speed internet on phones seamlessly across the country. Bharti, Idea and Vodafone entered into one agreement while Tata and Aircel forged another.