India telecoms tribunal delivers split verdict on 3G roaming pacts

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Photo – AFP

India’s telecoms tribunal delivered a split ruling Tuesday on a challenge by mobile phone operators to a government ban on forming roaming pacts to provide 3G services outside their licensed zones.

The Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appelate Tribunal (TDSAT) had sanctioned the strength of three people including the Chairman. But the fiasco in the split of telecom tribunal is due to the retirement of its technical member, leaving two bench members comprising of (TDSAT) Chairman Justice SB Sinha and Member PK Rastogi having differences in their findings.

Some reports allege Justice Sinha is the acquaintance of the mobile operators who allowed petitions against the government’s directive to stop intra circle 3G roaming giving it a sense of violating natural justice. But Rastogi dismissed their petition saying they cannot provide roaming. Yet the mobile phone operators are allowed to continue giving 3G roaming service until further notice.

The countries top 3 carriers by revenue – Airtel , Idea Cellular and Vodafone – gained momentum in the stock market since the telecom tribunal split verdict arrived. Yet some foreign corporates like Etisialt JV of the UAE, Bahrain Telecommunications and Telenor of Norway seem to be nagging over rampant corruption and scam in the country.

Etisalat, along with 122 others, has been sacked by the apex court over the telecom license acquired in 2008.”As unanimously resolved by the board this evening, Etisalat DB will be taking steps to reduce operating costs, including the suspension of its network and services ,” Etisalat said in a statement.

The UAE operator shut down its operations in mid February this year which affected 1.67 millions of its potential customers. Analysts believe troubles started for Etisalat since the mid of January when its network was disconnected by Reliance Communication for non-payment of its dues and the company did not make efforts to restart its network. TDSAT has also reserved an order on a plea by Anil Ambani of Rinfra in which he demanded a compensation of Rs120 billion ($2.18bn) from Etisalat for using its towers. This has put Etisalat into a further ordeal.

Meanwhile, Etisalat’s Indian partner Majestic Infracon denied allegations it has left Etisalat DB probably in the process of being wound up. India’s all time slow economic growth has left hardly enough for Etisalat to revive its operations. The UAE operator has been faring well in the international markets as it launched 3G services in Afghanistan and investing billions in Nigeria.

Etisalat’s exit from India has bought collateral damage to both the parties as it took thousands of jobs from the country. Etisalat, the primary stakeholder of a group of telecom firms, is seeking Rs 370 billion ($6.72bn) from banks and infrastructure companies. The Abu-Dhabi based operator hopes to make a clear chit after indemnifying Rinfra with Rs.120 billion ($1.28bn).

The slow growth of Indian economy seems to be taking a toll on the interests of foreign corporations. Etisalat will be the second foreign telecom company to exit India after Bahrain Telecommunication. Telenor will still be operating in the country but with a different partner.

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