In a breather for Vodafone and Idea Cellular, the Delhi High Court on Friday restrained the Centre from taking any “coercive steps” against the telecom majors, which have been asked to pay penalty of Rs. 550 crore and Rs. 300 crore respectively, for providing 3G services outside their circles without requisite licences.

Justice Rajiv Shakdher, referring to a Supreme Court order on a plea of Bharti Cellular Ltd. in a similar case, asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) not to take any coercive steps in pursuance of its notices issued to the telecom companies asking them to stop providing 3G services to mobile users in the circles for which they had no licences.

“Meanwhile, the petitioners (Vodafone and Idea Cellular) are directed not to add new customers for providing 3G services,” Justice Shakdher said and issued a notice to the DoT to file its reply to the two separate petitions of the telecom service providers.

Senior advocates A.M. Singhvi and Maninder Singh, appearing for Idea Cellular and Vodafone respectively, sought the stay on the operation of DoT notices asking the telecom majors to pay penalty and stop providing 3G services outside their licence areas by entering into intra-circle roaming pact with other telecom firms.

Distinguishing between the case of Bharti Cellular Ltd and that of Idea and Vodafone, Singhvi said, “In our case, no committee was constituted to hear us and not only the order of the division bench but also the principle of natural justice was violated. Our case is different from that of Bharti Cellular Ltd.”

Meanwhile, the court allowed the plea of another senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi that Reliance Communication Ltd. be impleaded as a party to the petitions filed by Vodafone and Idea Cellular.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre not to take any coercive steps against Bharti Cellular Ltd. The apex court had asked the telecom company not to extend its roaming services to new customers in seven circles where it does not have licences for 3G spectrum.

BCL had moved the apex court after the division bench of the High Court vacated its stay on the operation of a DoT notice against BCL for providing 3G services outside its licensed circles.

Subsequent to the high court order, the DoT issued similar notices against Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Aggrieved by the notices, the two telecom firms moved the High Court and simultaneously sought intervention in the apex court in the hearing of the BCL plea against the DoT notice.

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