How did Modi govt allow unilateral hike in mobile service tariff, Congress asks

A week after India's three major mobile service providers raised their tariffs, Congress questions rationale behind increase

Randeep Singh Surjewala (file photo)
Randeep Singh Surjewala (file photo)

NH Political Bureau

A week after major mobile companies increased their tariffs, the Congress party on Friday questioned the rationale behind the increase and attacked the Modi government for ‘burdening’ 109 crore cellphone users in India. 

Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters in Delhi, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala criticised the Modi government for allowing three major private telecom companies — Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea — to increase mobile service tariffs.

Surjewala condemned the unilateral tariff hikes, highlighting that the companies collectively raised rates by an average of 15 per cent effective from 3 and 4 July 2024. Saying Modi 3.0 is thriving on "crony capitalism", Surjewala condemned the Union government for not conducting a survey or study before allowing the increase. 

He also asked why the Modi government and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) abdicated their duty and responsibility towards 109 cell phone users.

"Effective 3 July, the three private cell phone companies, i.e. Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, have increased their tariffs by an average of 15 per cent. The three private cell phone companies have a market share of 91.6 per cent, or 109 crore cell phone users out of a total of 119 crore cell phone users as on 31 December 2023," Surjewala said.

The total additional yearly payment from the pockets of Indian mobile users seeking connectivity is Rs 34,824 crore, he said, citing TRAI.

The mobile services market in India is an 'oligopoly', thanks to Reliance Jio (48 crore users), Airtel (39 crore), and Vodafone Idea (22.37 crore), Surjewala added. Of these, Jio and Airtel have a customer base of 87 crore, making them a virtual duopoly.

Effective 3 July, Reliance Jio has increased its mobile service charges from 12 per cent to 27 per cent and the average increase is 20 per cent, Surjewala said. Effective 3 July, Airtel has also increased its cell phone user's charges from 11 per cent to 21 per cent with the average increase being 15 per cent, he said.

Effective 4 July, Vodafone Idea has increased its cell phone user's charges from 10 per cent to 24 per cent with the average increase being 16 per cent, Surjewala said.

"Two things stand out. First, the date of announcement of increase of tariffs clearly appears to be in consultation among the three private cell phone companies. Second, the date of effective implementation of increased tariffs is the same," he said.

Surjewala claimed that the additional per year burden of tariff increase is Rs 34,824 crore for the 109 crore customers of these three companies. “How can private cell phone companies be permitted to unilaterally increase cell phone tariffs by Rs 34,824 crore annually without any oversight and regulation by the Modi government?” he asked.

"Wasn't the increase in cell phone prices withheld until the conclusion of Parliament elections as the Modi government would have been questioned on the justification for burdening 109 crore cell phone users and fleecing them of an extra Rs 34,824 crore?" Surjewala said.

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