India: Incoming Calls Are No More Free – Credits Airtel/ Idea/ Vodafone (Impact On Digital India And E-Governance Campaign)

Last Updated: 19 December 2018
Article by Shubham Borkar and Parimal Kashyap
Most Popular Article in India, December 2018


Advent of Reliance Jio has completely transformed the dynamics of telecom sector in India. Almost free outgoing calls and extremely cheap data services has forced revolutionary changes in the pricing of telecom services as well as the structure of the telecom operators. Vodafone Idea merger and Airtel-Tata DOCOMO merger are remarkable examples of this shift. For consumers, there has been a huge relief in terms of the cost of availing telecom services. In order to compete with Reliance Jio's extraordinarily cost-efficient plans, other telecom operators had to cut their tariff plans too. However, reductions in the prices have seemed to affect average revenue per user (ARPU) of these telecom operators.

Minimum Recharge Tariff Plan

To combat this, telecom operators have repeatedly tried strategies which often run contrary to the interests of the consumers at large. Latest in the list is 'minimum recharge tariff' plan.Through this plan, the telecom companies have introduced a host of sub-Rs 100 prepaid packs such as Rs 35, Rs 65 and Rs 95, with a 28-day validity period. This means that users who do not recharge their plans would see outgoing calls blocked in 30 days and incoming ones in 45 days.

There are a major chunk of dual-SIM smartphones consumers who use a secondary connection (usually a service other than Reliance Jio) exclusively for incoming calls. The latest plans will force such consumers to recharge their secondary SIM a minimum amount every month only for receiving incoming calls. Then there are 2G users, who for several reasons cannot afford to have a 4G smartphone. A large number of such users have a mobile connection only for receiving incoming calls. These telecom operators, through this scheme, aim to remove such users and shift them to a monthly plan with minimum recharge which would, in turn, boost ARPU of these telecom operators.

No more Life-Time validity

The scheme is a complete departure from 'lifetime free validity' model that had been in place all these years. Lifetime free validity scheme had several positive impact on the growth of telecom sector as it led to steep rise in the number of subscribers and brought telecom services to the low-income section of the population particularly residing in semi-urban and rural areas. The scheme was advantageous for the consumers unable to afford monthly rental services. The new tariff scheme would roll back the benefits and low-income subscribers will be the most affected by it.

Role of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (hereinafter 'TRAI') was created by TRAI Act 1997 to regulate telecom services especially the services provided by private operators. One of its central objectives is to ensure consumer protection. In doing so, TRAI has taken several measures in the past to facilitate quality services at affordable rates.

In the present case as well, TRAI has been receiving a large number of complaints from customers.1However, it has been stated by TRAI that it will not interfere in the actual tariff structures, as telecom operators are responsible for the same.2 Further, the tariff plans do not violate TRAI Regulations on tariff which prescribes for a minimum of six-months as tariff protection period.3

No Prior Approval Needed

Initially, TRAI had directed standard tariff packages for cellular mobile services. The service providers were also required to seek prior approval of the authority before launching new tariff plans and/or making changes in the existing plans. However, due to high degree of competition in the telecom sector and decline in the tariff, the authority shifted to de-regulation of the tariffs.

Hence, in the current setup, service providers enjoy full flexibility to provide tariff plans according to their policies and the requirement of seeking prior approval has been waived off. Huge concerns were raised when telecom operators had doubled the data charges a few years ago but no actions were taken as regulation of service charge is predominately the responsibility of the service provider and TRAI's mandate does not cover it.

The aim of providing telecom operators the liberty to fix tariff plans on will was done with a view that increased competition between the market players would lead to reduction of rates of telecom services to the consumers. With the new tariff plans in place, shifting back to regulation of tariffs is a notion that TRAI should worth considering. After all, protection of the interest of the consumer is the central mandate of TRAI.

Further, TRAI enjoy the power to "issue such directions to service providers as it may consider necessary for proper functioning by service providers".4 In the present case, TRAI should ideally step in and use this power to bar the telecom operators from continuing their plan or ask the operators to bring necessary changes to the current plan.

Consumer Redressal Mechanism

According to Telecom Consumers Complaint Redressal Mechanism Regulations 2012,5 an aggrieved consumer is ought to get his complaint resolved through this procedure:

  1. Visit the operator's site and find the proper complaint procedure. Telecom operators provide 'Manual of Practice' which contains the procedure for resolving grievances.
  2. Call all India customer care number and register your complaint. You must obtain a complaint or docket number. After registering your complaint, your operator would ask you to wait for its resolution. According to TRAI regulations, the operators must resolve the complaint quickly.
  3. If operator has failed to resolve the complaint, you can register the complaint to Nodal Officer. List of such Nodal Officers are provided on the website of the operator. The Nodal Officer is obligated to resolve your complaint within ten days.
  4. If you are still not satisfied, you may move to Appellate Authority in your circle, the contact details of which are also mentioned in the company website.6 This is usually the last body to resolve your complaint. However, one can register the complaint through National Consumer Helpline or move to the local consumer court.

The above mentioned steps must be followed else your complaint in the consumer court will not be entertained.

Antitrust Claims

In the recent Supreme Court judgment in Competition Commission of India v Bharti Airtel Ltd.,7 the position of TRAI and CCI with respect to antitrust claims that require interpretation of TRAI Act 1997 has been cleared. The Apex Court has ruled that CCI cannot proceed with investigations of alleged antitrust breaches by telecom operators if the case involves interpretation of TRAI Act. Since, TRAI is better placed to interpret TRAI Act, investigations by CCI in such cases could only proceed after jurisdictional facts are determined by TRAI.

Notably, the above mentioned case concerned the alleged cartelisation of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) when these operators had refused the consumers to avail mobile portability service.


The definition of cartel has been provided under Section 2(c) of the Act which reads as follows: 'cartel includes an association of producers, sellers, distributors, traders or service providers who , by agreement themselves, limit, control or attempt to control the production, distribution, sale or price of or, trade in goods or provision of services.'

In the present case, as seen above, the tariff plans launched by both Vodafone, Idea and Bharti Airtel are almost identical in nature. This would not leave much option for the customers except for subscribing to the plans. Further, all the telecom operators rolled out the tariff plans at around the same time. Hence, this is a clear case of cartelisation in reference to the minimum recharge tariff plans as the service providers are clearly attempting to control the price of the tariff plans.

As laid down in the Competition Commission of India v Bharti Airtel Ltd judgment, TRAI is likely to have significant role to play if such claims are launched.

Abuse of Dominant Position

Vodafone + Idea and Bharti Airtel( after merger with Tata DOCOMO) currently stand as the top operators telecom market in India both on the basis of revenue and consumer base.8 Further, if we consider the relevant market of '2G and 3G cell phone services', Vodafone Idea (or Bharti Airtel) could easily qualify as holding a 'dominant position' in geographical market of India within the meaning of Competition Act 2002.9

According to Section 4(2)(a)(ii), imposing 'unfair' price in purchase or sale of goods or service would amount to an 'abuse of dominant position'. In the present case, these telecom operators are abusing their dominant position in the 2G and 3G cell phone market by forcing the customers to subscribe to the unfair tariff plans.


It is certain that low-income consumers will be affected the most by these new tariff plans. The plans could have long lasting adverse impact on the prosperity of the telecom sector in India. TRAI's mission is "to create and nurture conditions for growth of telecommunications in the country in a manner and at a pace which will enable India to play a leading role in emerging global information society". In the past one decade, TRAI has been quite successful in doing justice to its mission.

While the Smartphone boom in India has been remarkable, still more than 75% of the cell phone users rely on feature phones that work on a 2G or 3G platform.10 This plan will hit them the most and it is highly likely that portion of those users would be wiped out from the network due to unaffordability of the new tariff plans. This is in the long run is definitely going to affect India at large as on one hand Centre is hoisting the Digital India and E-Governance on the other hand these telecom providers are excluding a major population from this bracket of basic amenity of communication. Such acts of the Telecom Operators like Bharti Airtel, Idea and Vodafone is highly reproachable.

Stance of TRAI in this matter has been soft so far but the situation demands the regulatory body to take necessary strong steps against the operators. As discussed above, the antitrust claims could be relevant, more so in light of ongoing cases against the telecom operators.





4TRAI Act 1997, s 12(4).





9Competition Act 2002, ss 4 & 19(1).


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions