After the issue was settled more than three years ago, the Supreme Court on Monday reopened the question whether the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has powers to hear appeals against regulations framed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). The SC had in its judgment of December 6, 2013, curtailed powers of the sectoral tribunal, saying the appellate authority has no such powers.
The issue once again got revived after the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in 2014 sought review of the judgment. The apex court had on February 10 last year directed to hear the review petition and its maintainability aspects in open court. The review petitions are mostly heard in chambers. A bench headed by justice Dipak Misra on Monday posted the matter for final disposal on August 16.
COAI, in its review petition, said that the TDSAT’s appellate powers under Section 14(b) of the Trai Act “are of widest amplitude and that the regulations framed by Trai falls within the ambit and scope of an appeal”.
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According to it, parliamentary intent cannot be divested in the matter of interpreting a statute. “Telecommunications is a specialised field. A separate regulatory authority as also a separate tribunal was created to ensure continued availability of expert examination of issues — judicial, technical and administrative etc by both the institutions… Parliamentary intent was also to provide for uniformity in judgments in the telecom sector in order to avoid divergent views/judgments from various high courts and the resultant uncertainty and unpredictability,” the review petition stated, adding that the 2013 judgment is contrary to the legislative intent of creating expert tribunals to adjudicate specialised disputes by experts.
The SC, in 2013, had held that the tribunal and the Delhi High Court, which had held contrary to its order, is not correct. However, it said that any plea against such regulations can be decided by the HC.
Trai had claimed that TDSAT has no jurisdiction to decide on the regulations framed by it but can decide only a direction, decision or an order passed by it. “TDSAT is authorised only to hear and dispose of appeal against any direction, decision or order of the petitioner (Trai) under the Trai Act, 1997 and their is no provision to hear appeal against regulations framed by Trai in the exercise of its power under section 36 of the Act,” Trai had argued.