HC blocks CCI probe against Airtel, Vodafone over Jio plaint

The Bombay High Court on Friday accepted a statement made by Competition Commission of India (CCI) that it would not act on its order against incumbent or older telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular or against the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

The CCI had initiated a detailed probe against these entities for allegedly trying to block the entry of newcomer Reliance Jio. The CCI told the court that it will halt its probe into allegations of cartelisation against the three operators till 28 July, which is the next date of hearing.

A division bench of Justice Shantanu Kemkar and Justice M S Sonak accepted the statement and posted the matter for further hearing to 28 July, allowing the telecom companies to amend their petition and file additional affidavits in the case. Until then no coercive action would be taken against the telecom companies.

The telecom companies have moved the high court against an order passed in April seeking to probe allegations of cartelisation and unfair trade practices. Reliance Jio had alleged that incumbent players had not provided sufficient network connectivity or points of interconnection, leading to call failures on its network.

Early in May, CCI had found prima facie evidence of Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India forming a cartel to deny Jio adequate points of interconnection (PoI) which led to huge call failures on the new entrant's network, and ordered a detailed probe into the issue.

The companies claimed that the probe order was unfair and illegal and it was not communicated in time. While praying to quash and set aside the order, they argued that if this order was allowed then it would bring disrepute to the companies.

Counsel for CCI said there was no delay in communicating the order to the companies and as per rules 60 days period is given for conducting the probe, which can be extended. The court granted temporary relief to the petitioners.

The order came in response to a petition filed by Idea on 22 June seeking a stay on the probe on the grounds that there is already the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which regulates the sector, and a tribunal for dealing with issues in the sector.