The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) may impose a fine of Rs50 crore on Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom service provider, and start criminal proceedings against it for selling SIM cards to companies in bulk.
These companies, in turn, rented out the SIM cards, which is a violation of both, the licence agreement between DoT and Bharti, and the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
“Seeing the gravity of the violation, keeping in mind the security of the state, the quantum of penalty to be imposed may kindly be decided as this would be deterrent for other telecom service providers,” a July 29, 2011 internal DoT note, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times, said.
“The issue being referred to dates back to 2000 when it was an established industry practice to cater to customer requirements for mobile connections for short durations, given the high tariffs,” a Bharti spokesperson said.
“Vigilance Telecom Monitoring Cell (VTMC) analysed the subscriber data base of Bharti Airtel (BAL), Idea and Vodafone,” the DoT note said. “After analysis, it was found that by BAL 1,847 bulk mobile connections were issued in the name of Ficom Business Resource Pvt Ltd (FBRPL) and 741 in the name of Galaxy Rent-a Tel Pvt Ltd (GRPTL).”
“Bharti then entered into an agreement with these companies for renting of SIMs issued to individual customers ie, third party transfer of SIM/connection, which was a violation of Indian Telegraph Act. Also the transfer of SIM is a violation of licence agreement condition.”
DoT then sent a show cause notice to Bharti on January 18, 2010. Bharti’s reply through its February 9, 2010 letter “is not satisfactory”, the note said.
“We have not received any notice from DoT in this regard and would, therefore, not be able to comment on the same,” the Bharti spokesperson said.
While recommending the penalty, the DoT note says, “As such it would be advisable to impose the maximum financial penalty for violation of terms and conditions of the licence agreement of Rs50 crore on the licence as also recommended by member (technology).”
“In addition to above, DoT may file a criminal case in the court of the magistrate of the first class under section 20 of the Indian Telegraph Act for working unauthorised telegraph.”"As a responsible company, we have always been compliant with the guidelines laid down by the government," the Bharti spokesperson said.
“Also, as you are aware, the telecom minister has taken a view to evolve guidelines to reduce the element of discretion while deciding penalty for violation of licence conditions and make the process as scientific as possible. We hope that matters such as these will be referred to within the same.”