Policymaking in the department of telecommunications (DoT) could be partly interrupted with the transfer of former telecom secretary JS Deepak, which also means the Telecom Commission now has no representation from the department.
With Deepak’s transfer to department of commerce, the position of chairman of the Telecom Commission, which is the apex decision making body of the DoT, has also been left vacant. Apart from the chairman, consists of three full time members — Member (Services), Member (Finance), and Member (Technology). All these posts had been lying vacant with the last one unoccupied for the past six months.
Originally, when it was constituted, the Telecom Commission also had a post of Member (Production) but that post was removed and the responsibilities were entrusted to the Member (Technology). Currently, Advisor (Technology) is looking after the responsibilities of the Member (Technology). The post of Member (Technology) has been vacant since Peeyush Agrawal’s demise on April 15, 2016.
Agrawal was appointed to the position in August 2015, and prior to that, he was working as DoT’s technology advisor. The position of Member (Finance), which has been vacant since August 1, 2016, was held by Annie Moraes, who superannuated from the post. The position of Member (Services), which has been vacant since September 1, 2016, was held by NK Yadav, who had also been earlier given additional charge of MTNL CMD. The DoT has already invited applications to fill up these vacant positions of the three members, but has not been able to fill them up so far.
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Apart from these, the Telecom Commission also comprises four part time members — Niti Aayog CEO, and secretaries of departments of electronics & information technology, economic affairs, and industrial policy & promotion. An e-mail sent to the office of Minister of State for Communications Manoj Sinha, and the ministry’s spokesperson went unanswered at the time of going to press.
The Commission is responsible for formulating the policy of DoT for approval of the government; preparing the Budget for the DoT for each financial year and getting it approved by the government; and implementation of government’s policy in all matters concerning telecommunication. According to sources, the inter-ministerial panel was also in process of approaching the sector watchdog Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for its recommendations on the next round of spectrum auctions, and lack of members on the commission could possibly delay this process.
When the order announcing the transfer of Deepak to the Department of Commerce was published, he was attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, in his capacity as telecom secretary, and this move surprised many within the government and the industry, particularly considering that no replacement was named. In the order dated March 1, Deepak was named as officer on special duty in the commerce department, and would become India’s permanent ambassador to the World Trade Organization from June 1.
Incidentally, Deepak wrote a letter to Trai on February 23, asking the regulator to revisit and restrict the period of promotional tariffs being offered by telecom operators, suggesting that free services from companies could not only hurt government revenues but also have a serious impact on India’s banking sector.