SC seeks response from govt on RCom’s appeals against TRAI’s prepaid balance directives

By: | Published: December 11, 2018 3:45 AM

The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Centre and telecom regulator Trai on appeals by Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications (RCom) challenging Trai’s directions that asked the firm to refund unspent prepaid balance amount of its prepaid subscribers.

RCom had discontinued its 2G/GSM services in several circles

The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Centre and telecom regulator Trai on appeals by Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications (RCom) challenging Trai’s directions that asked the firm to refund unspent prepaid balance amount of its prepaid subscribers.

RCom had discontinued its 2G/GSM services in several circles (Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, the North-East, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, UP [East], UP [West], Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala) from November 2017 to December 2018 by giving mandatory 30 days’ advance notice to its subscribers. It had also informed Trai that the subscribers will be given the option to port out or upgrade to its 4G/LTE data services.

However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in January through various letters had directed the company to refund the security deposit of its postpaid subscribers, unspent prepaid balance amount of those who ported their numbers, and also refund the unspent prepaid balance of those subscribers who could not port or who did not wish to port their numbers before disconnection of services by the telco.

A bench led by Justice NV Ramana issued notice to the Union of India and Trai after senior counsel Maninder Singh and counsel Shally Bhasin argued that the telecom regulator could not have directed the firm to refund the unspent prepaid balance amount to RCom’s customers, who did not opt for porting, in the absence of any law or regulations in this regard.

“…The impugned judgment has been passed without considering the applicable laws and regulations and also, the terms of the licence conditions,” it said.

In its appeal, RCom claimed that it is in the process of refunding the security deposit amounts to its erstwhile postpaid subscribers, but due to the asset monetisation process, no amount can be released without necessary approval from their lenders.

Citing Trai’s communication dated May 7, 2018, the firm further told the apex court that over Rs 8 crore is the unspent prepaid balance of 4.9 crore subscribers who did not opt for porting despite ample notices being given to them. “The appellant (RCom) submits that assuming and not admitting, that if the appellants is directed to refund the said amount, the same would be a tedious task involving serious financial implications upon it. The cost of processing the refund would be more than the amount which is allegedly liable to be refunded by the appellant,” the appeal stated.

Challenging the TDSAT’s November 29 judgment that dismissed their appeals, RCom argued that no unspent amount is liable to be refunded upon porting of numbers by its erstwhile prepaid subscribers under Regulation 7(2)(d) of the the Mobile Number Portability Regulations, 2009.

In case of refund of the unspent prepaid balance amount of prepaid subscribers who could not port or did not wish to port their numbers before disconnection of service, RCom said the licence condition only prescribed giving an advance notice of 30 days to each subscriber before disconnection of services, and thus, no amount is to be refunded in this case.

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