New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday declined any interim relief to telecom companies against the Delhi High Court's order upholding TRAI's decision making it mandatory for them to compensate subscribers for call drops from January 1, 2016.
"It's a question of interim order. We will hear it on Thursday (March 10). As of now, no interim order," a bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton Fali Nariman said. The court asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for the cellular operators, to take adjournment before Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) where they are supposed to appear on Monday.
The court also issued notice to the Centre, TRAI and others, directing them to file their response before next week on appeals filed by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a body of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India and 21 telecom operators, including Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Reliance. During the brief hearing, Attorney Genreal Mukul Rohatgi opposed the telecos' plea, saying the high court has rightly upheld TRAI's decision.
"I also oppose their (telecos') request for no coercive steps as the decision was in the consumer's interest. Therefore, we succeeded before the high court," the AG submitted. At this, the bench said, "We will examine the issue." The bench, however, was of the view that "prima facie we do not find anything ultra virus in the decision (of the high court). If call drop fault is on your (telecos) part, you will have to pay for it."
However, the telecom companies said that the matter should be heard. The high court had, earlier this week, upheld the October 16, 2016 decision of TRAI making it mandatory for cellular operators to pay consumers one rupee per call drop experienced on their networks, subject to a cap of Rs 3 a day. The court order came while dismissing a batch of petitions filed by COAI.
The high court had said that it had not stayed TRAI's notification since filing of the writ petition, therefore the telecom regulator is at liberty to implement its decision January 1, 2016 onwards. The court had said that the regulation was made by TRAI "keeping in mind the paramount interest of the consumer".
The telecom operators had moved the high court seeking quashing of TRAI's regulation contending that it was a "knee- jerk reaction" which penalised them without proving any wrong-doing. The telcos had termed the regulation as "arbitrary and whimsical" contending that providing compensation to consumers amounted to interfering with companies' tariff structure which could be done only by order, not regulation.
The high court, while brushing aside the contention of the telcos, had also observed that the compensation for call drops was capped at Rs 3 only and the regulation also mandated only compensating the calling consumer not the receiver.
Earlier, TRAI had told the high court that consumers have a right to get compensated for call drops and this was different from the quality of service guidelines that cellular service providers have to follow under the licence conditions.
TRAI had termed the call drops as a "pervasive problem", saying it amounted to "harassment" of consumers as well as breach of contract that telcos had with subscribers. TRAI had on December 22, last year told the court that no coercive steps would be taken against telecom firms till January 6 for not complying with the call drop compensation norms.