Supreme Court rejects CCI and Jio’s cartelisation pleas against Airtel, Voda Idea
The CCI had approached the apex court in January against the Bombay High Court order setting aside a probe ordered by the competition watchdog on charges of cartelisation against the telcos by Reliance Jio.
The CCI had appealed against an earlier Bombay High Court judgement that had quashed its probe against the incumbent operators on grounds that the antitrust watchdog had no jurisdiction to do so since there is an existing sectoral regulator — the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
The Bombay High Court in September last year had quashed CCI’s probe against the three incumbent operators over the alleged denial of interconnection points to Jio, prompting the antitrust watchdog and the country’s youngest telecom carrier to move the apex court against the decision in January.
A Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice A K Sikri, which heard the appeals said “we are upholding the order of the (Bombay) High Court on the aspect that the CCI could exercise jurisdiction only after proceedings under the Trai Act had concluded/attained finality, i.e. only after Trai returns its findings on the jurisdictional aspects”. EThas seen acopy of the order.
Further, the apex court bench said the “ultimate direction given by the high court, quashing the order passed by CCI, “is not liable to be interfered with” as such an exercise carried out by the antitrust watchdog (read: CCI) “was premature”.
Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to “uphold the order of the Bombay High Court”.
Airtel’s legal counsel Harsh Kaushik, in turn, said “the upshot of the apex court order is that CCI does not have the jurisdiction to probe these (cartelisation) charges at this stage. Only after determination of relevant facts by the concerned authorities under Trai Act, 1997 — the Trai, DoT and TDSAT — can the matter be examined any further”.
Legal circles though say CCI and Jio could technically file review petitions in Supreme Court. At press time, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio did not reply to ET’s queries. Bharti Airtel shares, however, dipped nearly 2% to Rs 312.30 on BSE, while Vodafone Idea’s were down over 3% to Rs 34.05 on Wednesday.
Back in November 2016, Jio had accused the then three top telecom companies of forming a cartel to deny it interconnection points. This, the company had said, prevented its customers from being able to connect to customers of the other three.
Subsequently, the CCI ordered a probe in May 2017, reportedly saying there was prima facie evidence of these top telcos forming a cartel to deny Jio adequate points of interconnection, and gave 60 days to the Director General (DG) to complete the probe.