The Supreme Court on Monday sent back to the sectoral tribunal Sunil Bharti Mittal-led Bharti Airtel's petition challenging a Delhi high court order directing the telecom major to stop offering 3G services in seven circles where it did not get spectrum in the 2010 auction.
A bench headed by Justice BS Chauhan remanded the matter back to TDSAT after Bharti Airtel's senior counsel A M Singhvi informed it that the tribunal has become functional and even various other petitions pending before the high court on the issue have been sent back to the tribunal.
The apex court in April restrained Bharti Airtel from adding new 3G customers in seven circles where it did not possess 3G licences, but allowed India's largest telecom service provider to continue roaming and other facilities to its existing customers.
Sunil Mittal's firm does not have 3G mobile telephony in Kolkata, UP East, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala.
While the bench on Monday continued its interim order, it disposed of the matter saying that TDSAT shall decide it uninfluenced by the observations made either by it or the HC.
DoT accused Bharti Airtel of "illegally subletting" its 3G services under the garb of intra-circle roaming (ICR) facility by entering into bilateral commercial agreement with 2G service providers in these seven circles to win new customers.
"To allow customers enjoy seamless telephone services, DoT in the 3G bid document specified that successful bidders could enter into bilateral agreements with service providers in other circles," it said while questioning DoT's approach.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi earlier argued that Reliance Communications paid Rs 7,000 crore to win 3G spectrum in these seven circles while BSNL paid close to Rs 20,000 crore for it in many other circles.
“Bharti Airtel, which did not pay a single penny in these circles, is enrolling subscribers through surreptitious bilateral agreements with 2G service providers and causing huge losses to Reliance,” he said.
It also took note of the Centre's submission that no coercive action would be taken against the country's largest mobile phone company by revenues and subscribers till April 11, the next date of hearing. The division bench of the HC vacated the stay order granted to the company by a single judge bench on March 15 from stopping 3G intra-circle roaming in these seven circles.
The vacation of the stay order followed a petition filed by rival Reliance Communications, which pleaded before the court that its business was getting affected by Bharti Airtel's move.