The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to review its call drop compensation regulation.
The court asked Trai to consider papers dealing with technical aspects of dropped calls and apprise it of its stand on amending the regulations.
"It appears that nobody had seen technical papers on the day of (framing of) the regulations. Please tell us in an affidavit whether you could consider amending the regulations or you still want to stand by them," a bench headed by Justice Kurian Joseph said.
Trai had in October come out with rules that were to come into effect from 1 January, asking telecom operators to refund a rupee to the caller for every dropped call up to a maximum of three per day. Telecom companies challenged this in the high court, which dismissed their petition. They then moved the Supreme Court, which is now hearing the matter.
Thursday's observation came from the judges when counsel Kapil Sibal resumed his arguments on behalf of the Cellular Operators' Association of India challenging the judgment.
"You cannot shy away from the fact that exactly one month after the regulation on call drops, you (Trai) have come out with technical papers in which you admit that call drops will happen and the reasons can't be attributed to telecom companies alone," the bench said.
A Trai technical report last year had conceded that all call drops could not be blamed on service providers. The judges said the suggestion was without prejudice to the parties, who would be heard next month. If Trai wants to stand by its decision, it is free to do so.
Sibal submitted that these issues should be sorted out by hearing all players and not be fought in court. He pointed out calls dropped because of lack of towers, tower sealing by municipal agencies, and grey market handsets.
Additional solicitor-general P S Narasimha, appearing for Trai, said technical papers were periodically released by the regulator on various subjects and were different from regulations. Even the regulation allows for two per cent call drops.
"They (Trai) did not consider our response at the stage of the consultation paper and came out with zero tolerance on call drops. Now, they come out with technical papers in which they admit what we have been saying - that call drops are beyond the control of service providers," Sibal said.
If Trai's recommendation is implemented, telecom operators will end up paying around Rs50,000 crore to consumers in a year, he said.