MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court has pulled up the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for breaching its jurisdiction while ordering a probe into allegations of cartelisation against Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.
The order quashing the CCI probe into the three telcos was passed on Thursday and came as a huge relief to incumbents who suffered a blow just a few days back when the sector regulator cut the interconnect charge they are entitled to on calls made from a rival’s network. The order copy though was made available on Friday.
“The Authority like the Commission and/or Director General, has no power to deal and decide the stated breaches including of “delay”, “denial”, and “congestion” of point of interconnectivity (POIs) unless settled finally by the Authorities/TDSAT under the telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) Act,” stated the bench in its order on Thursday, a copy of which is with ET.
Justices Anoop V Mohta and Bharti Harish Dangre said reasons given by CCI were vague, unclear and insufficient to initiate an inquiry under Competition Act. The judges said that every aspect of development of telecommunication market are to be regulated and controlled by the concerned Department/ Government under the TRAI Act only.
The order stated that the question of interpretation or clarification of any “contract clauses”, “unified license” “interconnection agreements”, “quality of service regulations”, “rights and obligations of telecom service providers (TSP) between and related to the above provisions”, are to be settled by the Authorities/TDSAT and not by the Authorities under the Competition Act.
Jio last November complained that the three top telecom companies formed a cartel to deny interconnection points to the newcomer, resulting in calls made by its customers to the networks of the rivals getting failed.
The CCI ordered the probe in May, saying that there was prima facie evidence of the top three carriers forming a cartel to deny Jio adequate points of interconnection. Acting on Jio’s complaint filed in November, the fair-trade regulator gave 60 days to the director general of CCI to complete the probe.
Idea Cellular and Bharti Airtel approached the Bombay HC in June, seeking a stay on the investigation on the grounds that there were already a regular and a tribunal for dealing with issues related to the sector. In July, the CCI told the HC that it would halt the probe and wait for the court’s decision.
Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) was also a party to the case at the CCI as it was accused of supporting the big three telecom companies to deny POIs to Jio. The antitrust body had ordered a probe into the functioning of COAI as well, saying the industry body was prima facie found to be promoting the interests of the incumbents and allowing it to be used as a platform for preventing Jio’s smooth entry into the sector.
The judges however said that COAI had not breached the Competition Act.
“We feel that our original stand has been vindicated by the court ruling, that principally we’ve done nothing that is in contravention of competition and we acted well within the boundaries afforded to associations,” COAI’s Mathews told ET on Thursday.
Both CCI and Jio now have the option of appealing to the Supreme Court against the High Court order.