In what can be seen as an embarrassment for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Friday stayed the former’s directive to Vodafone Idea to withhold its RedX plan, which promises 4G network on a priority basis to its certain premium customers.
Although it is an interim stay order granted on the principle of natural justice and Trai has been allowed to conduct its inquiry into the plan and pass its final order, It is nevertheless a partial victory for Vodafone Idea as it can carry on with the plan and on-board subscribers till then. For Trai, it is a setback since the tribunal has directed it to first give Vodafone Idea an opportunity to explain its position on the plan, and observed that the regulator had failed to establish why the tariff plan needed to be suspended to conduct an inquiry.
Earlier this week, Vodafone Idea had moved the TDSAT challenging Trai’s directive asking the company to withhold the plan till the matter is examined.
According to legal experts the interim stay granted to Vodafone Idea’s plan will not apply to Bharti Airtel, which also came out with a similar plan which was stopped by Trai. Bharti Airtel, which did not move TDSAT against the regulator’s directive, needs to do the same to get similar relief.
“There is no lack of power in the Authority to review and modify a tariff for any telecommunication service from time to time. The objection of the appellant is against keeping the review proceeding pending and still issuing a modification as an interim arrangement without even a prima facie satisfaction that the Authority has found a case of non-compliance of any of the directives issued earlier,” TDSAT said.
The tribunal said, “The direction for suspension of the RedX plan which, understandably, would apply only to the existing revised plan, lacks even prima facie reasons. The only justification that suspension would facilitate detailed examination by Trai is found to be devoid of any merits. During submissions also it has not been shown that for detailed examination by Trai it is necessary to withhold/suspend the Vodafone RedX offer forthwith”.
Vodafone Idea had introduced the RedX plan, which offered 50% higher speed compared to other post-paid plans, in November 2019. In May this year, it improvised the plan which stated that it would offer “priority 4G network on RedX Plan as compared to other post-paid plans”. The Tribunal said that while the Trai is within its right to conduct an inquiry as to what constitutes priority 4G network but it has not been established that the operator has violated any of the directives already issued by the Trai to govern framing of tariffs.
“Even during arguments the criticism on behalf of the respondents was only against assurance of a higher data speed but that assurance appears to have been modified and omitted in the revised plan of 13.05.2020,” TDSAT observed. “The only justification that suspension would facilitate detailed examination by Trai is found to be devoid of any merits. During submissions also it has not been shown that for detailed examination by Trai it is necessary to withhold/suspend the Vodafone RedX offer forthwith,” the order noted.