Vodafone India joined Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular's fight against sector regulator's order to cut international mobile termination charges (ITC) by 43% from February this year, marking another legal confrontation between the two sides, which are already at loggerheads on several issues including interconnect usage charge (IUC).
The second largest carrier moved the Bombay High Court against Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Thursday and the pleas of all three incumbents have been clubbed by the court. Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular had moved the court last month.
"We are bleeding and suffering huge losses," said senior counsel Darius Khambatta, who represented Idea Cellular, seeking an early hearing. The bench comprising justices Shantanu S Kemkar and MS Karnik will next hear the matter on June 19, but the telcos did not got any temporary relief.
Last December, the telecom regulator slashed ITC — paid by international operators to local networks that receive calls — to 30 paise from the earlier 53 paise a minute, a move that is hurting revenue of India's older operators already reeling from ongoing brutal price wars.
Both Airtel and Idea Cellular had earlier argued that the sector regulator's order helped neither the mobile service providers nor the consumers, and would instead lead to massive loss of revenue to the exchequer, though Reliance Jio did not back the plea.
Trai had then said that its aim was to stymie the “menace” of grey route of international calling, which it said also posed a “serious threat” to national security. The regulator is yet to present its side of the argument in the court.
In its petition, market leader Bharti Airtel has argued that the company was suffering losses daily, which can come to the tune of ?664 crore annually, due to the order's implementation. It also alleged that Trai appeared to have predetermined the termination charge, which has disturbed the level playing field.
The carrier also asked the court to declare the order contrary to the provisions of the Trai Act, “violative of Article 14 and manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable” and that the regulator should let the fixation of the charge be under forbearance.
“The regulation has been framed solely on a rationale, which was never put forth for consultation by the respondent (Trai)… and suffers from manifest arbitrariness and unreasonableness. It is inimical to consumer interest as well as that of the telecom service providers.”
“Throughout the explanatory memorandum, Trai has admittedly chosen to reverse engineer the explanations for its assumptions in order to ensure that it arrives at the predetermined ITC,” the top carrier alleged further.