Apart from ending a three-year ordeal for telcos Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular and quashing Rs 1,200 cr of penalties levied on them, the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Tuesday ripped into the government’s order which prohibited intra-circle roaming for 3G services.
In a hard-hitting, 88-page judgment, TDSAT chairman justice Aftab Alam and member Kuldip Singh called the department of telecommunication’s stand “misleading”, its basic premise “seriously flawed... and its extension to spectrums... even more fallacious” and said its stopping of intra-circle 3G roaming violated the telcos’ fundamental right to do business guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
The telcos had argued that, apart from the fact that their universal access service licence (UASL) allowed them to do intra-circle roaming, the government had even told them in writing — at the time of the 3G auctions in 2010 — that such roaming was permissible. When the DoT’s counsel argued that it were the licence conditions that mattered more, the telecom tribunal came down heavily on the government.
On DoT’s contention that the UASL allowed intra-circle roaming in 2G spectrum but not in 3G spectrum, TDSAT said there was no such thing as 2G and 3G licences, there was just one UASL. The judgment says, it is “fundamentally incorrect to describe 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands as ‘2G spectrums’ and 2100 MHz band as ‘3G spectrum’”. The ruling stated that since DoT allowed intra-circle roaming in the UASL (referring to allowing it in the case of 2G spectrum in 2008), then the same cannot be disallowed in the case of 3G.
The TDSAT reserved its harshest criticism for DoT’s argument that while it was true the government had given certain answers to the queries of the telcos, it was the licence conditions that would prevail. The order reads: “The queries were made in earnest and the Government of India was supposed to give its answers with full responsibility. The Government of India cannot be seen playing games in a matter of national importance such as allocation of spectrums that affects not only the operators but is crucial to the promotion and growth of communication in the country.”
Welcoming the judgment, Rajan S Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India — the GSM industry body — said, “TDSAT has recognised the stand of telecom operators on the basis of which they made aggressive bids