In a breather for Vodafone and Idea Cellular, the Delhi High Court on Friday restrained the Centre from taking any ‘coercive steps’ against the telecom majors which have been asked to pay penalty of Rs 550 crore (Rs 5.5 billion) and Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) respectively for providing 3G services outside their circles without requisite licences.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher, referring to a Supreme Court order on a plea of Bharti Cellular Ltd in a similar case, asked the Department of Telecommunications not to take any coercive steps in pursuance of its notices issued to the telecom companies asking them to stop providing 3G services to mobile users in the circles for which they lacked licences.
"Meanwhile, the petitioners (Vodafone and Idea Cellular) are directed not to add new customers for providing 3G services," Justice Shakdher said and issued a notice to the DoT to file its reply to two separate petitions of the telecom service providers.
Senior advocates A M Singhvi and Maninder Singh, appearing for Idea Cellular and Vodafone respectively, sought the stay on the operation of DoT notices asking the telecom majors to pay the penalty and stop providing 3G services outside their licence areas by entering into intra-circle roaming pact with other telecom firms.
Distinguishing between the case of Bharti Cellular Ltd and that of Idea and Vodafone, Singhvi said, "In our case, no committee was constituted to hear us and not only the order of the division bench but the principle of natural justice
“Our case is different from that of Bharti Cellular Ltd."
Meanwhile, the court allowed the plea of another senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi that Reliance Communication Ltd be impleaded as a party to the petitions filed by Vodafone and Idea Cellular.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre not to take any coercive steps against Bharti Cellular Ltd. The apex court had asked the telecom company not to extend its roaming services to new customers in seven circles where it does not have licences for 3G spectrum.
Bharti Cellular Ltd had moved the apex court after the division bench of the High Court vacated its stay on the operation of a DoT notice against BCL for providing 3G services outside its licenced circles.
Subsequent to the high court order, the DoT issued similar notices against Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Aggrieved by the notices, the two telecom firms moved the High Court and simultaneously sought intervention in the apex court in the hearing of the BCL plea against the DoT notice.
The DoT had issued notices to Vodafone and Idea Cellular asking them to pay penalties of Rs 550 crore or Rs 5.5 billion (11 circles) and Rs 300 crore or Rs 3 billion (six circles) respectively for providing 3G services to customers outside their circles where they did not get the requisite licences in the spectrum auction held in 2010.
The DoT notices asking them to stop 3G mobile phone services in circles where they did not win spectrum in the 2010 auction of the radio waves were issued days after the Delhi High Court set aside a stay on a similar notice served on BCL.