New Delhi: The department of telecommunications (DoT) is all set to levy heavy penalties totaling R200 crore on telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications and Idea Cellular, though for different reasons. The paperwork has been completed and is awaiting the return of the telecom secretary and the telecom minister, both of whom are currently overseas.
In the case of RCom, the R50-crore fine pertains to the Amar Singh phone-tapping case. DoT officials have cited clauses 39.2, 39.3, 40.5 and 41.4 of the licence agreement which, among others, deal with “the inability to maintain confidentiality of customer information, ensuring protection of privacy of communications and…unauthorised interception of messages”. RCom continues to maintain its original stance, that the interception was based on a request it had got from the authorities — if these were forged, then RCom was also the victim of a conspiracy. The DoT, however, has disregarded this defence and has prepared the groundwork for a penalty of R50 crore.
According to DoT files accessed by FE, telecom minister Kapil Sibal has endorsed the original proposal. A final note has been prepared on this basis.
In the case of Bharti Airtel, two fines of R50 crore each are awaiting the minister’s final sanction. The first pertains to camouflaging caller line identity (CLI) information on calls made by it in Madhya Pradesh. According to the DoT files, when Bharti was asked for the information, based on a complaint, the company provided details of calls but did not include the ones where the CLI had been withheld. When the DoT insisted, these record were made available, but Bharti said this was done inadvertently — a technical explanation was given to suggest this could have happened due to the use of third party call centres.
The DoT has disregarded this, arguing it was Bharti’s duty to ensure the CLI didn’t get removed; also, it says, the call centres were not third-party ones. DoT argues that tampering with CLI is not just a violation of the licence conditions, it is also a potential security threat.
The DoT note says, “This cannot be agreed as inadvertent mistake as CDRs initially provided did not have the camouflaged CLI calls which indicates that Bharti Airtel tried to hide the facts and mislead the investigation by not providing the complete processed CDRs containing camouflaged CLI calls.”
The last time a company was fined for this was in 2005, when Reliance Infocomm was caught showing international and long-distance calls as local calls — this was done by switching the CLI. This helped the company avoid paying the Access Deficit Charge. It is not clear, though, why Bharti would want to camouflage the CLI.
The other R50-crore fine — a similar one is contemplated for Idea