Bharti Airtel was on Thursday directed by the Supreme Court not to extend its roaming services to new customers in seven circles where it did not have licences for 3G spectrum.

However, the apex court asked the telecom department “not to take coercive steps” on the Rs.350-crore penalty imposed on the telecom major for illegally providing intra-circle 3G roaming facilities.

Airtel has been accused by Reliance Communication Ltd and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) of providing 3G services to customers in circles where it did not have licence through “illegal subletting” of spectrum to 2G service licence holders.

The seven circles where Airtel does not have licences to provide 3G services are Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh East and Kerala.

The order will not impact the existing customer base of the company in these circles.

Before passing the order, the apex court said it was concerned that its direction should not affect millions of customers, including rickshaw pullers, who use mobile phones.

“There are hundred, thousand and millions of customers. Rickshawalas are also using mobiles. We don’t wish to affect them,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Vikramajit Sen said while issuing notices and seeking response of the Centre, DoT and Reliance Communication within two weeks. The apex court said thereafter the respondents will file rejoinder within two weeks and posted the matter for hearing on May 9.

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