DoT says no to Airtel's plea on Rs 650-cr penalty

Last Updated: Mon, Jul 08, 2013 05:23 hrs
A Bharti Airtel advertisement board is installed against the backdrop of company's telecommunication tower in Kochi

Bharti Airtel would not get another chance for a personal hearing' regarding the Rs 650-crore penalty the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has slapped on it.

According to a recent communication, DoT opposed the personal hearing Airtel had sought by writing to Kapil Sibal, minister of communications and information technology.

The issue had been examined by DoT and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). Therefore, a further opportunity was not a desirable proposition, noted the communication.

It was suggested the orders for imposing penalty for all 13 service areas be issued without further delay, DoT said.

An Airtel spokesperson declined to comment.

However, a source close to the company said Airtel was likely to explore "legal options" on the issue if it got a formal penalty notice.

Last month, Airtel's Joint Managing Director and CEO, Gopal Vittal, had written to Sibal, stating the company should be given an opportunity to explain its position before a final decision.

Vittal had said there was no effective communication for the past eight years from the DoT regarding any alleged violations and it would cause huge handicap for company if penalty proceedings were initiated at this stage. This delay might also affect the company's ability to produce evidence, which might no longer be in existence to establish its case, he added.

Vittal said there was no violation and the company was in full compliance with the licence terms and had provided customer-friendly subscriber local dialing (SLD). The letter also mentioned Airtel had launched SLD services in 2002 and was then asked by Trai to give details of the service. The regulator had later termed the service customer-friendly, he added.

Sibal and DoT had already approved the recommendation of a DoT committee, that the maximum permissible financial penalty of Rs 50 crore each for 13 unified access service licences, where the violations took place, might be imposed.

The DoT committee had, in its recommendations, noted Airtel had violated the national long-distance/international long distance licence conditions in 13 circles between 2000 and 2005. According to committee recommendations, Airtel had not stopped the service at least up to June 2005, even after specific directions from DoT issued on June 20, 2003.

In May 2005, Trai had said Airtel was liable to termination of its licences. But the regulator did not recommend termination as it would affect a large number of subscribers.

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