NEW DELHI: TRAI today told the Supreme Court that it has to safeguard 100 crore telecom subscribers and if companies agree to compensate call drops with equal number of free calls to consumers without pre-conditions then it is open to re-consider its direction imposing penalty on them.
"If Telenor can offer free call for every call drops under its scheme 'call katega-muft call milega', then other service providers can also do so but it should be without any provisos. If they agree to do so, then we are open to considering it," Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said.
Rohatgi, appearing for Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), before a bench of justices Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman, said that the issue is that telecom companies never agree to any of the arrangements suggested to them by the regulator for compensating the consumers.
"We have to safeguard the interest of 100 crores of subscribers. We suggested the service providers to re-credit the time back to the consumers for the call drop, we asked them to give free calls but every time they say it is not feasible," Rohatgi said.
He said the Telenor scheme also has a proviso that the free calls will be given for every call drop but that call has to be made on intra network and not inter network and second the free calls has to be made in 24 hours.
"If the telcos agree that there will be no provisos of any kind and they are ready to give free calls for every call drops to the consumers, then we are open to looking into our regulations penalizing them," Rohatgi said.
The bench said then why TRAI has not asked other service providers also to follow free call compensation arrangement for call drops.
"They (Telcos) said re-crediting timing is not possible as it has to be done in two days which is not possible if a person is on roaming for more than two days. They said giving free calls is also not feasible to them. We were left with no other option," the AG said.
COAI, a body of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India and 21 telecom operators, including Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Reliance, have challenged the Delhi High Court order upholding TRAI's decision making it mandatory for them to compensate subscribers for call drops from this January.
The Attorney General further said that telecom companies are responsible for majority of the call drops attributable to the networks but they don't bother to invest on technology.
"Majority of the call drops are attributable to them but they are not interested in investing. They are just interested in filling their coffers," he said while justifying the penalty imposed on telecom service providers.
TRAI also claimed that by call drops, these telecom companies were making profit and said 79 percent customers in India have paisa wise billing while rest of the customers are billed minute wise.
Rohatgi said that 79 percent customers with paisa wise billing have call drops, it has been found that people tend to make several split calls, which result in more billing.
He said similarly if a customer has minute wise billing and if there is any call drops after 15 seconds, he will be charged for one minute which results in more billing.
"Total of 96 percent of population is pre-paid customers.
Average re-charge per day is Rs 10. More than 60-70 crore people deposit their money in advance with service providers without any interest being paid to them but when we ask these companies to compensate Rs 3 per day for call drops, then they say we can't do it," Rohatgi said.
He added that although there was no stay on the regulations either from the High Court or Supreme Court but still it has not been enforced as the telecom companies are not providing them the data of call drops.
Rohatgi said that apex court had earlier held that TRAI has to be an active trustee and not sleeping trustee and so we have to safeguard the interest of consumers as they can't come to Supreme Court for every problem.
The hearing remained inconclusive and is likely to continue tomorrow.
TRAI has earlier told the apex court that a "cartel" of 4-5 telecom firms having a billion subscribers are making Rs 250 crore a day but not making investments on their network to improve services to check call drops.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), on March 31, had told the apex court that TRAI cannot levy penalty through regulations as they have never exceeded the two per cent threshold limit set by the telecom regulator.
The Delhi High Court had early this year upheld the October 16, 2015 decision of TRAI, making it mandatory for cellular operators to pay consumers one rupee per call drop experienced on their networks, subject to a cap of Rs 3 a day.
The court had said the regulation was made by TRAI "keeping in mind the paramount interest of the consumer".
The telecom firms had moved the high court seeking quashing of TRAI's regulation, terming it as a "knee-jerk reaction" which penalised them without proving any wrongdoing.
The telcos had termed the regulation as "arbitrary and whimsical", contending that providing compensation to consumers amounted to interfering with their tariff structure which could be done only by order and not regulation.