The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has sought the Supreme Court’s view on whether it as the fair trade regulator or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India can address issues pertaining to anti-competitive practices in the field of telecommunications.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has sought the Supreme Court’s view on whether it as the fair trade regulator or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India can address issues pertaining to anti-competitive practices in the field of telecommunications. The question arose after the Bombay High Court a few months back quashed the investigation ordered by the CCI into charges of cartelisation against three telecom companies — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. The HC on September 21, 2007 while quashing CCI’s investigation 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. The CCI has also challenged quashing of the investigation ordered by it 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).
A bench comprising justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha on Thursday recused from hearing the five appeals —four filed by the CCI and one by Reliance Jio Infocomm against the HC judgement. CCI in its appeal stated that the HC had committed fundamental error as the issues before the CCI and Trai were different. “There was no conflict of jurisdiction between the two statutory authorities. The issue that was before the CCI was regarding the existence of an anti-competitive agreement/cartel between Vodafone, Airtel and Idea Cellular, to block the services and entry of Reliance Jio into the telecom market, to the detriment of consumers. The Trai would, of course, deal with the disputes pertaining to adequacy of PoIs, quality of services, etc, but it was not empowered to grant relief qua the alleged anti-competitive activities of telecom operators. Conversely, the CCI also cannot set norms for interconnection and quality of service,” the appeal filed through counsel Arjun Krishnan stated. According to it, the HC failed to note that the Trai Act itself carved out an exception for proceedings against monopolistic and restrictive trade practices to continue before the market regulator i.e, MRTP Commission, which has now been replaced by the Petitioner i.e, Competition Commission.
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 Infocomm Ltd had lodged a complaint with the CCI alleging that the three cellular operators had colluded with each other to prevent the Mukesh Ambani firm from building its customer base. Jio alleged 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.