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TRAI warns telcos of legal action if directives aren't implemented

Indian telco operators have pleaded with the regulator not to enforce its order on call drop compensation until the Supreme Court hears the case later this week.

Toughening its stand against telecom companies, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has warned of legal action and other punitive measures if telcos fail to abide by its order to compensate consumers for call drops.

In October 2015, the regulator ruled that the companies should compensate consumers for call drops 1 rupee for every call dropped, but capped at 3 rupees a day from January 1, 2016. The order was given following a spate of complaints from the consumer protection organisations and other bodies.

The companies challenged the regulator's order in Delhi High Court but their petition was dismissed by the court last week. However, the companies have filed a petition in the Supreme Court, which has admitted the plea but refused to stay the High Court order. The apex court, which has directed the regulator to file its version, will take up the case for hearing this Thursday, March 10.

Subsequently, TRAI issued fresh orders last Wednesday giving five days for the service providers to submit compliance reports of its earlier directive, but the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India have urged the regulator not to implement its order while the matter is pending in the country's highest court.

"Since the case will be heard on March 10 for final disposal, we request you to keep your letter, dated March 2, 2016, in abeyance," the associations said in a joint letter to the regulator on Monday.

Speaking to ZDNet, TRAI member Anil K Kaushal said that no decision has been taken on the request made by the companies but warned of legal action if the service providers did not abide by the TRAI's decision.

"If they violate TRAI's orders, there will be disincentives, legal action, and also penalties for the telecom companies," he said. Kaushal declined to give full details, and also did not give information on how much the companies would be penalised.

TRAI can also lodge a complaint with the Department of Telecommunications recommending revoking the licences of the service providers if things get beyond a certain point.

The telecom companies are hopeful that the regulator will consider their letter and not insist on compliance reports immediately. "There is no communication from TRAI regarding our request but we expect that it will be considered as the matter is sub judice and the Supreme Court is to hear the case in three days," said Ashok Sud, secretary general of the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India.

While the telecom companies claim that the financial burden due to payment of compensation for call drops could be up to $8 billion depending on usage pattern, the regulator rejected such a claim, saying it would be less than $150 million.