A group representing the country’s major telecom operators is evaluating legal options to counter a defamation suit filed by Reliance Jio Infocomm, one of its members, against it and its director general.
The Delhi High Court accepted the defamation suit against the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) last week. In an interim order, the court asked the association and director general Rajan Mathews to refrain from using “disparaging and defamatory” words or phrases against Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio, which the telco alleged, had hurt its reputation.
Jio’s allegations were “patently misconceived” as all communications were “issued in good faith” and were made to call attention to “regulatory decisions that are detrimental to the growth and development of the telecom sector and to seek intervention of the regulator,” COAI said in a statement on Sunday.
“COAI is well within its rights to hold and voice its views on regulatory and policy issues. The matter is currently sub judice and we are in the process of considering and evaluating our legal options,” Mathews said.
He added that it was disappointing to see a member take legal steps against the association. “We believe the allegations are without merit and we intend to defend ourselves vigorously,” said Mathews.
Jio had alleged that the industry body and its DG had tried to thwart its entry into the telecom market and later stifle its growth while advancing the interests of other members, including India’s top three telcos Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, which together account for more than 60% of the nation’s mobile phone subscribers.
Jio, which has signed up more than 186 million subscribers (15.7% market share) since starting operations in September 2016, had alleged that COAI’s previous statements had reflected its biases against the telco.
The industry body has alleged that some of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s decisions, including local interconnection rate cuts, were detrimental to the industry and favoured Jio.
The association defended its comments, saying that a “clear, stable and predictable policy environment is the foremost requirement of any regulatory regime that fosters industry growth and customer services.”
The industry body hoped that the legal authorities would take “a more balanced view on this issue, which may be impacting the relationship of the member and the association and also the entire industry.”
Earlier, the regulator and Jio had dismissed as “baseless” allegations by India’s top three operators that Trai’s recent rulings and policies were biased against them. Trai had said the companies were free to move court if they found any anomaly in its orders.