The Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Reliance Jio Infocomm have moved the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court’s order that quashed the investigation ordered by the fair trade regulator into charges of cartelisation against three telecom companies —Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Reliance Jio Infocomm have moved the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court’s order that quashed the investigation ordered by the fair trade regulator into charges of cartelisation against three telecom companies —Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. The five petitions —four by the CCI and one by Reliance Jio Infocomm — are coming up for hearing on Thursday before a bench led by justice RF Nariman. The CCI has also challenged quashing of the investigation ordered by the fair trade regulator against telecom operator’s industry body COAI for allowing its platform to be used by the top three incumbents to deny Reliance Jio points of interconnection (PoIs). The HC had said that the CCI had “no jurisdiction” to interpret contract conditions or policies of the telecom sector, which was governed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Act, and hence, to order a probe in the case.
The HC hearing had come on a petition filed by Idea, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and the COAI seeking quashing of the CCI order passed on April 21 last year, directing an investigation by its director general into allegations of cartelisation made by Reliance Jio. Last year, Reliance Jio had lodged a complaint with the CCI alleging that the three cellular operators had colluded with each other to prevent it from building its customer base.
Reliance Jio had also questioned the HC’s jurisdiction and said that the case must be heard by the Delhi HC since the CCI order was passed in Delhi. “The Competition Act governs the anticompetitive agreements and its effects. It cannot be used to interpret such contract conditions/policies of the telecom sector or industry that arise out of the Telegraph Act, and the TRAI Act. The authority under the Competition Act (CCI) has no jurisdiction to decide upon, or deal with statutory agreements. Every aspect of the telecom sector is to be governed by the concerned department of the government keeping in mind the need and technology under the TRAI Act. Hence, there is no question of initiating proceedings under the Competition Act in this case,” the bench said.
Jio had in 2016 approached the anti-monopoly body alleging that the incumbents —Bharti, Vodafone and Idea — are abusing their dominant market power by forming a cartel of sorts and denying it the requisite number of points of interconnect, which is inconveniencing its customers. Jio has also claimed that COAI was used as a platform by the three to deny it PoIs. The CCI’s move to investigate Jio’s complain on PoIs is probably the first by the competition regulator since thus far it has been the Trai and TDSAT, which had decided telecom cases.