SC sets up panel on SIM cards

NEW DELHI, Apr 27:
The Supreme Court today set up an expert panel to recommend within three months the procedure for telecom firms for properly identifying customers before issuing SIM cards to them so that they are not misused by anti-social elements.
In view of divergent views of the Government and telecom regulator TRAI on many issues including on maintaining database of the subscribers, a bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia set up their joint committee headed by Telecom Secretary to resolve the issue so that the DoT can issue the instructions within 15 weeks.
“We hereby direct the constitution of a Joint Expert Committee consisting of two experts from TRAI and two experts from DoT to be chaired by the Secretary, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology,” the bench, also comprising justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar said.
The bench passed the order on a plea by one Avishek Goenka seeking a direction to the Government to frame guidelines for telecom firms for issuing SIM cards.
The bench, however, refused to pass any guidelines saying that it has to be decided by the expert committee as the judiciary has no technical know-how on the issue.
“Some divergence on certain specific issues of the regulatory regime has been projected in the instructions and comments filed by TRAI and DoT.
“They need to be resolved but in absence of any technical knowhow or expertise being available with this court, it will not be appropriate to decide, by a judicial dictum, as to which of the views expressed by these high powered bodies would be more beneficial to the regulatory regime and will prove more effective in advancing the public interest,” the bench said.
“The above notified Committee shall resolve the above specified issues and any other ancillary issue arising therefrom and make its recommendations known to the DoT within three months from today,” the bench said.
The bench said that DoT shall take into consideration the recommendations of the Committee and the instructions issued by it earlier shall thereupon be amended and modified.
“Composite instructions, so formulated, shall positively be issued by the DoT within 15 weeks from today and report of compliance submitted to the Registry of this Court,” the bench said.
The Centre and the telecom regulator had differed on a number of issues like whether re-verification should be undertaken by the service provider or the DoT itself or any other central body.
They also differed on the mode of delivery of SIM cards to provide due verification of identity and address of a subscriber and on enhancing the penalty for violating the guidelines including sale of pre-activated SIM cards.
The bench, after noting down all the divergent opinion, said that these things should be sorted out as it can have have serious ramifications.
“The above mentioned points of divergence between TRAI and DoT are matters which will have serious ramifications not only vis-à-vis the regulatory authorities and the licensees but also on the subscribers and the entire country. These aspects demand serious deliberation at the hands of the technical experts,” the bench said.
“It is expected that the authorities concerned would enforce the regulatory regime with exactitude. Therefore, it is not only desirable but also imperative that TRAI and DoT seriously cogitate on the issues where divergence has been expressed between them and bring unanimity in the terms and conditions of licences which would form an integral part of the instructions,” the bench said.
“We have clearly stated that it is not for this Court to examine the merit or otherwise of such policy and regulatory matters which have been determined by expert bodies having possessing requisite technical knowhow and are statutory in nature.
“However, the Court would step in and direct the technical bodies to consider the matter in accordance with law, while ensuring that public interest is safeguarded and arbitrary decisions do not prevail,” the bench said.
The petitioner had alleged his plea that verification norms were necessary in view of the recent probe in terror attacks pointing towards the use of mobile phones the connections for which were given on the basis of fake documents.
He had pointed out that both in Mumbai and Delhi blasts, the probe had reached to the conclusion that the cellular phones used by the accused were operating with SIM cards, secured on the basis of bogus documents.
“The SIM cards are provided without any proper verification, which causes serious security threat as well as encourages malpractices in the telecom sector. It appears that 65 per cent of all pre-paid SIM cards issued in Jammu & Kashmir and per cent of all pre-paid SIM cards in Mumbai, may have been issued without verification,” he had submitted. (PTI)

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