Telecom operators heaved a sigh of relief on Wednesday with the Supreme Court scrapping the watchdog's order on compensating subscribers for call drops even as the government assured mobile phone users that it will keep a check on service quality.
"Unreasonable, arbitrary, non - transparent and unconstitutional, " was how the apex court bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman described the relevant notification by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on call drop penalty.
The bench struck down the December 16, 2015 verdict of the Delhi High Court judgment that had upheld the regulator's order that kept the penalty at one rupee to be credited to a user's account for every call drop, subject to three such events a day.
"We are very pleased with the Supreme Court verdict.
It affirms what we have been saying all along, " Rajan S. Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI), told IANS, alluding to a host of factors being responsible for the menace of call drops.
"Now, let us move forward and fix the real issues - - like having more cell towers, affordable spectrum and working with the local authorities to get the infrastructure in place, " Rajan said, just ahead of the next round of auction for airwaves.
The service providers, during the hearing, had contended that TRAI decision was a "populist" measure to accommodate consumers as call drops were happening for host of external considerations not attributable to them.
However, TRAI had defended its decision to impose the call drop penalty, describing it as a "least invasive way to deal with the issue" and told the apex court that the service providers must enhance their investment in infrastructure as they were earning huge revenues.
"Consumers expect mobile operators to provide good services.
I as the minister will keep a check that they are doing it, " Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, adding the telecom firms must identify the gaps and step up investments in infrastructure.
"Telecom companies are responsible to give satisfactory service to customers. "
Prasad said the telecom companies have added 90, 000 cellular sites since last July across the country.
"They need to do more. "
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had earlier said in his arguments that there were a total of 800 crore call drops a year.
If the call drops at the users' end were taken into consideration, the penalty would amount to no more than Rs. 512 crore.
This, he had added, would get reduced further if the cap of three were invoked.
The COAI and the Association of Unified Service Providers of India (AUSPI) in a joint statement said the telecom firms are committed to work with TRAI on focusing on the core issues that impede the delivery of quality of service such as availability of affordable spectrum and timely permissions for locating cell towers.
"The industry has made consistent and significant efforts to optimize networks and which have largely been completed, with more than 2 lakh sites being installed in last 15 months for 2G and 3G services across the country since January 1, 2015.
The industry believes that these efforts will bring substantial conformity with TRAI's quality of services requirements, " the joint statement said.