In a major relief to new service providers including Uninor, Etisalat DB, Loop and Videocon, the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Friday set aside penalties imposed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for failing to meet roll-out obligations.
The DoT has already collected close to R300 crore from these service providers as liquidated damages for failing to meet roll-out obligations.
The TDSAT directed the DoT to refund the amount collected so far from the operators within four weeks.
The tribunal bench headed by Justice SB Sinha said that the DoT did not follow the principles of natural justice and did not give any opportunity to the service providers to present their case before imposing penalty.
The operators had earlier contested the DoT’s decision to impose penalty. “It was our contention that the liquidated damages charged of us were unreasonable as they did not fully factor in the delays on the part of the DoT in clearing our radio sites as well as allocation of full spectrum,” said the Uninor spokesperson.
“We had also protested that the charges were levied unilaterally without us being given an opportunity to present our case.
“We welcome the TDSAT ruling today that has upheld all our contentions while refunding these charges. We now have an opportunity to demonstrate that Uninor has met all its rollout obligations as enshrined in the license agreement,” he said.
The operators had filed as many as 70 petitions in the TDSAT.
The tribunal asked the DoT to give fresh hearing to the operators in accordance with today’s judgement. Earlier, it had directed these operators to deposit 60% of the liquidated damages.
The DoT had imposed the penalty on the operators on the basis of a recommendation by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that pointed out that the new operators could not meet roll-out obligations.