Telecom major Vodafone on Saturday moved the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court’s order that dismissed its plea against the consultation process adopted by regulator Trai for fixing interconnection usage charges (IUCs) between mobile operators. Stating that non-sharing of the cost model with telecom companies amounted to a violation of principles of natural justice, Vodafone told SC that the HC erred in failing to recognise that the telecom firm has a vested legal right to seek the cost model. “This is so, because in fixing IUC/MTC charges, Trai is performing a ‘function’ as per Section 11(1)(b)(ii) of the Trai Act, and as per Section 11 (4) (as amended), Trai is mandated to ‘ensure’ transparency while performing such a function, and/or exercising its powers in relation thereto. Therefore, the statute casts upon TRAI a positive obligation to ‘ensure’ transparency. This statutory mandate gives Vodafone a vested legal right, to a transparent process,” it said.
Vodafone further submitted that the first thing the telecom operators need to know is Trai’s view on the relevant heads of expenditure, etc, and figures being taken into account, that is the detailed cost model. Without the same being supplied, none of the parameters are met for an effective and meaningful consultation, and thus the statutory requirement of ensuring transparency is breached, it stated. The telecom regulator had on Tuesday came out with a notification to cut mobile interconnect usage charges (IUC) from 14 paise a minute to 6 paise a minute from October 1. While the mobile-to-mobile termination charge has been reduced, Trai has decided that for other types of calls (such as wire-line to mobile and wire-line to wire-line), the termination charge would continue to remain zero.
From January 1, 2020, onwards the termination charge for all types of domestic calls shall be zero, Trai said. The teleco, in its appeal, stated said the HC has placed artificial fetters on its right to seek transparency, which are not borne out from the statute itself. “…the statutory requirement of ensuring transparency cannot be understood in a restrictive context, as has been done by the HC. Rather, all facets of transparency, are part and parcel of the mandate cast upon Trai, and since the petitioners were seeking information which fell within the four corners of ensuring transparency, the DB has erred in holding that the petitioners does not have a vested legal right to the information sought,” according to the petition. While the single judge of the HC had found that the TRAI’s inaction to accede to Vodafone’s demand, or refusal to share the models demanded of it, were not in violation of the transparency mandate under Section 11(4) of the Trai Act, the Division Bench found “no error in the single judge’s findings”. IUCs are charges paid by operators of telecommunication services on whom the call originates to operators at whose end the call terminates. The charges are currently determined in accordance with the Telecom Interconnection Usage Charges Regulations 2015. Vodafone had moved the HC earlier this year against consultation papers on IUCs floated by the Trai in an attempt to make it reveal the cost models gathered to determine the revised rates on the grounds of transparency.