Vodafone, Idea, Tata Telecommunications and Aircel have been sent show cause notices by the Department of Telecom (DoT), asking them to stop providing third-generation (3G) mobile data services through roaming pacts outside their licensed zones as the pacts are 'illegal'.
The concerned companies have 60 days to respond to why their licenses should not be cancelled or a penalty be imposed on them.
The notice sent to the telcos threatens a penalty of Rs 50 crore per circle in case they fail to adhere to DoT's directives.
The government sold 3G airwaves in an auction in 2010 that attracted much higher bids than expected, and no single company managed to get spectrum for all of the country's 22 zones.
The government passed an order, asking telecom companies to stop offering 3G services beyond their licensed circles or zones under mutual roaming agreements. Several telecom companies -- including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Aircel and Tata Teleservices -- had filed petitions in the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), challenging the December 23, 2011, directive of DoT to scrap their intra-circle roaming pacts within 24 hours.
The issue became more complicated after a two-member bench comprising TDSAT Chairman Justice S B Sinha and Member P K Rastogi differed in their findings.
While Justice Sinha allowed operators' plea against the government's directive to stop intra-circle 3G roaming, saying it was violating natural justice, Justice Rastogi dismissed the petition saying they cannot provide roaming services.
The Chairman was of the view that DoT had not followed the procedure and operators were not given enough time to share their views, but Rastogi dismissed the appeal saying they can't provide 3G services by having mere 2G licences.
The spilt verdict left DoT in a difficult position and it sought legal opinion on the likely implementation of the split verdict.
Sources told NDTV earlier that DoT may also seek the help of the Attorney General of India for drafting a separate notice for recovery of amount earned by telecom operators through the roaming pact.