The Delhi High Court has vacated a stay order that permitted Bharti Airtel, the country's largest telecom operator by subscribers, to continue 3G services. The New Delhi-based company will now have to shut down operations across seven circles where it provides 3G services through roaming agreements with other operators.
Now Airtel needs to shut down its 3G mobile services via 3G inter-circle roaming (ICR) arrangement in Haryana, Kolkata, Uttar Pradesh East, Maharashtra and Goa, Gujarat, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh and Chattigarh circles.
A panel of judges at the Delhi High Court set aside the court's earlier order that stayed a Department of Telecommunications (DoT) order, lawyers said.
In March, the DoT had asked Bharti Airtel to immediately stop 3G services in circles where it did not hold 3G spectrum. Bharti Airtel has been offering 3G services in these circles through inter-circle roaming agreements with other operators.
''Bharti Airtel has always maintained the highest standards of compliance. We believe the 3G inter-circle roaming arrangements are in compliance with all applicable laws and licensing conditions. These arrangements are also hugely beneficial to customers and discontinuing these will cause grave inconvenience to them. We await a copy of the order of the Hon'ble Delhi High Court and will consider appropriate legal action," an Airtel spokesperson said.
On 23 December 2011, DoT had sent notices to telecom firms, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, asking them to stop their ''illegal'' 3G roaming pacts with immediate effect.
In the 15 March notice, DoT had asked Airtel to stop offering 3G services in seven circles and pay the fine within 72 hours. Bharti secured a stay on the order from a single bench judge by 18 March, which permitted the company to offer 3G roaming until the next hearing on 8 May.
Two other telecom companies - Vodafone India, the Indian unit of British telecom major Vodafone Group Plc, and Aditya Birla Group company Idea Cellular – were also involved in similar disputes with then government.
After the DoT notice, Bharti Airtel approached the Delhi High Court, seeking a stay on the notice asking the company to stop 3G mobile and data services in seven telecom service areas and the fine of Rs50 crore per circle.