DoT’s USD411m penalty notice could spark fresh legal disputes

4 Oct 2021

Indian telecoms operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) have received notices from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) demanding a cumulative penalty of INR30.5 billion (USD411 million) within three weeks, relating to a 2016 dispute over interconnection provision. The Financial Express writes that the action risks sparking a fresh bout of litigation in the sector just weeks after the government approved a reform package which aims to put an end to legal battles by reducing regulatory burdens on service providers and promoting healthy competition.

The penalty was originally recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in October 2016 after high levels of congestion on established networks led to call failures made to and from the Jio network beyond permissible limits. The TRAI’s action was ratified by the DoT’s Digital Communications Commission in July 2019 but was suspended by the telecoms minister. A Bharti Airtel spokesperson, quoted by the Financial Express, said: ‘We are deeply disappointed with the arbitrary and unfair demand based on TRAI recommendations of 2016 relating to provisions of point of interconnect to a new operator. These allegations were frivolous and motivated. Bharti Airtel takes pride in maintaining high standards of compliance and has always followed the law of the land. We will challenge the demand and pursue the legal options available to us.’