Act on Tata Tele or face legal action, COAI warns DoT

Written by Jayati Ghose | New Delhi | Updated: May 18 2013, 08:47am hrs
TeleTele
GSM body could take dept to SC on contempt of court charges

Armed with legal opinion from experts like former solicitor general Rohinton Nariman and senior Supreme Court advocate Harish Salve, the body representing mobile phone operators using GSM technology, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), has hardened its stance against the department of telecommunications (DoT) dragging its feet on cancelling 19 GSM licences that were granted to Tata Teleservices (TTSL) in January 2008 as part of the dual-technology policy.

The industry body, which is led by the countrys top three GSM operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular has decided to write to DoT one last time seeking cancellation of the licences. If the licences are still not cancelled, it would move the Supreme Court alleging contempt of court order by DoT.

We are concerned over the liability of being culpable of providing interconnection services to a company whose licences are no longer valid, Rajan S Mathews, COAI director general, told FE. We will be sending the letter to DoT requesting compliance with the SC order in the next couple of days.

When asked about the issue, a TTSL spokesperson said, As a company policy, we do not comment on speculations.

Ever since the Supreme Court cancelled the licences given by DoT on January 10, 2008, by its order of February 2, 2012, the COAI has maintained that it includes apart from the 122 GSM licences granted on a flawed first come, first served basis the19 dual-technology technology licences given to TTSL also.

This is because the apex courts order had stated that all licences issued on or after January 10, 2008, stands cancelled due to irregularities in the allocation process. The order was not specific in terms of how many licences were to be cancelled, nor did it name operators whose licences were to be cancelled. Based on this, COAI contends that since the government awarded additional 19 GSM licences to TTSL through the same January 10, 2008, press release that it used to award the contentious 122 licences, the apex court order cancelling licences issued on that day includes TTSLs mobile permits also.

However, TTSL maintained that the dual-technology policy was cleared by DoT in October 2007 and it was the first company to apply for GSM spectrum after that, but DoT in disregard of norms first granted spectrum to three other CDMA players whose applications pre-dated the policy.

Thus, the delay on DoTs part in granting licences to it on January 10 made it suffer as it got spectrum late and never got it in the Delhi circle. Therefore, there is no merit in COAIs contention, it held. Further, it maintained that the SC order never cancelled the dual-technology policy. On the contrary, the policy has been upheld by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal. The COAI has gone in appeal against this to the Supreme Court.

A war of words has been on between COAI and TTSL since then. The COAI petition seeking cancellation of licences was dismissed by TDSAT as the governments presidential reference seeking such answers was then pending before the SC. Later, COAI petitioned the SC that the government put all spectrum vacated due to the cancellation of the licences for auction along with the plea that TTSLs licence be cancelled. The DoTs affidavit, meanwhile, favoured continuation of TTSLs licence. The apex court disposed of the plea stating that DoT put up all spectrum vacated for auctions but did not say anything specific about TTSLs licences. Both COAI and DoT viewed their interpretation on TTSL to be correct. DoT had said that it would seek a legal opinion from the law ministry to clear the confusion but so far nothing has happened on that front.

THE STORY SO FAR

* The SC order of Feb 2, 2012, stated that all licences granted on or after January 10, 2008, stood cancelled

* Since Tata Tele also got its dual-technology licences (GSM) for 19 circles on the same day, COAI contends that they should also be cancelled

* Tata Tele rubbishes any such claim; says that the dual-tech policy came on Oct 19, 2007, and it was the first to apply for licences under it

* However, DoT a day earlier processed similar applications of RCom, Shyam and HFCL and processed Tata Teles on Jan 10, 2008. Says it suffered due to this delay

* So far, COAI has not got any relief from either TDSAT or SC on the cancellation of Tata Tele's licences

* But it views a March 2013 SC order on its petition to DoT to put all spectrum which got vacated due to cancellation for auction as a victory of its view on Tata Tele's licences.