Bharti Airtel defends roaming tie-ups in SC


New Delhi : Bharti Airtel Monday questioned in the Supreme Court the Department of Telecommunications order asking it to terminate its roaming arrangements with other telecom operators to provide 3G services.

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The court decided to hold a detailed hearing Thursday and till then telecom department would not take any coercive steps against the company.

While not suspending the April 4 order of the Delhi High Court restoring the department of telecommunications (DoT) direction, the court took on record Additional Solicitor General A.S. Chandhok’s undertaking that it would not take any coercive steps on telecom service provider.

The division bench of the Delhi High Court, by its April 4 ruling, had vacated the stay of the DoT order by its single judge.

The high court by its March 18 order suspended the operations of the DoT order of March 15, which asked the Bharti Airtel to stop its 3G operation that it was carrying out by way of roaming agreements with other telecom operators.

The apex court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice Vikramajit Sen was told by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi that the roaming arrangement between Bharti Airtel and the Vodafone and Idea Cellular was in accordance with the condition stipulated in the licence.

Singhvi told the court that DoT initially never raised the questions on the validity of the roaming arrangements between the telecom operators and it was only later that it objected to these.

He told the court that termination order by the DoT would affect millions of subscribers of the Bharti Airtel. The court was told that telecom tribunal on July 3, 2012, gave a 150-page order favouring Bharti Airtel.

Appearing for Reliance Communication, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi told the court that the roaming arrangement was “wrong, illegal and amounted to subletting the 3G airwaves”.

Senior counsel told the court that by way of roaming arrangement Bharti Airtel was undercutting his business. “Without paying anything, Bharti Airtel was undercutting those who had paid thousands of rupees for getting licence and airwaves.”

Rohatgi said his clients had already suffered a loss of Rs.5,000 crore. “I have already lost Rs.5,000 crore by way of scuttling” by the Bharti Airtel,” Rohatgi told the court.

Chandhok disputed Singhvi’s contention that DoT belatedly raised the issue of the legality of the roaming arrangement. He told the court that the DoT first raised the issue in 2011 which was sought to be scuttled by various litigations.

The DoT had held illegal the roaming agreement between Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, by which Bharti Airtel was providing 3G services in seven circles where it did not hold licence.

The DoT last month while directing Bharti Airtel to cease its 3G operations by way of roaming accord route with other telecom operators imposed a penalty of Rs.350 crore on it.