TDSAT sets aside Rs 50 crore penalty imposed on Bharti Airtel
New Delhi: The telecom tribunal TDSAT on Wednesday set aside Rs 50 crore penalty imposed by the DoT on Bharti Airtel for allegedly camouflaging calling-line identification (CLI) in MP circle, saying it should have allowed the private operator to present its side of the case.
However, the TDSAT bench headed by its Chairman Justice S B Sinha also said the conduct of Airtel in this entire episode was "not free from of any blemish".
"While the impugned demand cannot be upheld on the ground stated herein before, there cannot be any doubt that the conduct of the Bharti Airtel is not free from any blemish," said TDSAT while asking DoT to refund Airtel's Rs 50 crore without any interest.
If DoT does not return the amount within four weeks then it would have to pay 12 percent interest, the tribunal said.
TDSAT said it was "of the opinion that it would be necessary that the Airtel is given an opportunity of hearing by the DoT".
Airtel has set up a call centre in Indore for making business promotion calls to non-Airtel mobile customers during implementation of Mobile Number Portability (MNP).
"However, when the said calls were generated, the record of the called party was showing its own number instead and in place of party A i.E. Calling party number, the one of the called party (B party) was showing", the order paper said.
A complaint was made by a customer to BSNL, who in turn forwarded the same to Department of Telecom on January 2011.
DoT on the same date asked Airtel to provide Call Detail Records (CDRs) January 16-18, 2011 for all trunks with BSNL as well as for providing Home Location Register (HLR) Dump.
Following that DoT wrote a letter to Airtel asking why action should not be taken against it, saying calling line identification (CLI) was found camouflaged in more than 8000 calls and it was a violation of License agreement.
Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) Cell, DoT's vigilance wing, also visited Airtel's premise at Indore and Delhi for inspection.
Allegations were denied by Airtel in its correspondence with DoT, saying error was done by Call Centre (a third party).
Moreover, Nokia Siemens Network, the concerned equipment manufacturer, also issued a certificate with regard to the said purported technical error.
However, not satisfied with it, DoT imposed Rs 50 crore penalty on October 5, 2011 on Airtel, following which the latter moved the TDSAT.
TDSAT also consented with DoT's submission that Airtel ought to have come out with its case of technical glitch from the very beginning.
However, it observed that no show cause notice was issued by the TERM cell and tribunal was not satisfied with the way DoT proceeded in the matter.
The TDSAT bench said that it was "of the opinion that the Bharti Airtel should be given a notice to show cause" and this "aspect of the matter cannot also be ignored" by the government.
It further said that "TERM cell in its correspondences categorically proceeded on the basis that the Petitioner is guilty of originating camouflaged calls.
"If it was so pre-determined, TERM cell could not have been expected to be acting neutrally while adjudicating the issue namely as to whether there is a technical glitch or not," said TDSAT.