File photo of a worker cleaning the Bharti Airtel logo inside a shop in Kolkata.
Bharti Airtel was on Thursday restrained by the Supreme Court from providing 3G roaming services to new customers in seven circles where it does not have 3G licences.
A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice AR Dave and Justice Vikramjit Sen, however, ordered status quo and told the telecom department "not to take coercive steps" on R350-crore penalty imposed on Bharti for illegally providing intra-circle 3G roaming facilities.
The seven circles where Airtel does not have licence to provide 3G services are Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh (east) and Kerala. With SC's status quo order, services of existing customer base of Bharti would not get affected.
The bench also issued notice to RComm on whose appeal the division bench of the Delhi High Court had upheld the penalty. RComm has alleged that Bharti provided 3G services to customers in these circles through illegal subletting of spectrum to 2G service licence holders.
"There are hundred, thousand and millions of customers. Rickshawalas are also using mobiles. We don't wish to affect them," the bench said, issuing notices to the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) that has imposed the fine. It gave two weeks time to both - Reliance Communications and DoT - to file their response. Two more weeks were given to Bharti to file its rejoinder and the court fixed May 9 to hear the matter further.
Permission was also given to Vodafone's India unit and Idea Celluar Ltd that have pacts with Bharti to provide intra-circle roaming services to become parties in Bharti's appeal. BSNL too was allowed to do the same.