Telecom companies will not have to compensate customers for call drops, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, striking down an order by the country’s telecom regulator that sought to penalise service providers for call disruptions.
The top court’s order came on a clutch of petitions by telecom operators challenging sector regulator TRAI’s last year’s notification asking them to compensate consumers Rs 1 for each call drop, subject to a maximum of three disrupted calls in a day.
“We have held the impugned regulation to be ultra vires, arbitrary, unreasonable and non-transparent,” a bench of justices Kurian Joseph and RF Nariman said.
The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) and the Association of Unified Service Provider of India (USPAI) had moved the top court challenging a Delhi high court order upholding the TRAI’s notification.
The menace of call drops – used to describe calls which get automatically disconnected due to network issues – has become one of the biggest problems for the 900 million-odd mobile subscribers in the country in recent times, forcing even Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene last year.
Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said soon after the court judgment that operators must “heed properly” his call for improving service quality.
“When they can expand telecom services to the nook and corner of the country, why can’t they improve the quality?” Prasad said.
Operators, who blame lack of spectrum and shutting down of a large number of towers over health concerns for the growing problem, welcomed the court order.
“We are glad that (the) Supreme Court has given attention to our arguments to arrive at this verdict. We have all along held that a levy on call drops is the wrong solution to the problem of connectivity,” said Rajan Mathews, the COAI director general.
An organisation representing mobile subscribers blamed TRAI for failing to highlight the problem before the court.
“We hope that the Supreme Court and the government will soon amend existing policies to hold telecom service providers accountable for poor delivery of services,” said Bejon Mishra, founder of Consumer Online Foundation.
In their plea, the telecom operators had contended that TRAI’s decision was a “populist” measure as these were happening for a host of reasons not attributable to them.
The associations contended that under the terms and conditions of licence, it was only when call drops exceed a two percent ceiling that operators attract penalties, and none of the telecom service providers have breached the cap or penalised on this count.
TRAI had defended its decision saying it was the “least invasive way to deal with the issue” and told the apex court that the service providers must enhance their investment in infrastructure as they were earning huge revenues.
(With PTI inputs)