No licence to loot

After indicting government and telecom regulator,SC gives them a chance to undo the 2G damage

Written by The Indian Express | Published:February 3, 2012 3:33 am

After indicting government and telecom regulator,SC gives them a chance to undo the 2G damage

Less than a fortnight after a landmark judgment favouring Vodafone that had challenged the government’s Rs 11,217 crore tax demand,the Supreme Court on Thursday quashed the grant of 122 telecom licences and allocation of spectrum in 2008 by declaring it illegal. The judgment also quashes the government’s attempts first to defend its former minister A. Raja’s wrongs,and later its in-your-face assertion that spectrum allocation was a policy decision put in place originally by the previous NDA coalition. It took a little over four years,and none less than the SC to drive home the point that the 2008 decision of the department of telecom — of “virtually gifting away an important national asset at throwaway prices” — was indeed a scam. In unequivocal terms,it has called for auction for fresh grant of licences and spectrum allocation “as was done for allocation of spectrum in 3G band”.

But by singling out Raja and placing the blame squarely on him,the SC may have unwittingly given a signal to the CBI’s 2G trial court,to which it has referred Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy’s writ petition that seeks to probe P. Chidambaram,the finance minister then. Indeed,the court has not found any fault on the part of the prime minister,the then FM and the finance ministry. But it had the unkindest words for Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for adopting a lop-sided approach in recommending spectrum be allocated at 2001 price in the guise of promoting growth,affordability and penetration of mobile telephony. Despite this,it reposed faith in the regulator to make fresh recommendations on grant of licence and 2G spectrum allocation through auction in the next two months.

With the SC’s clear directive,the government and the regulator have four months to sort out the mess. Definitely,the government has to grant licences afresh. Most players who bagged spectrum have not rolled out their network,as is evident from the regulator’s February 2011 recommendation to the department of telecom that 69 licences be scrapped. The government dilly dallied here too,disregarding the licence conditions. But the plight of some who rolled out their network in right earnest needs to be taken on board. All eyes will be on the government and the regulator to see how exactly they begin to undo the damage in a manner that is fair and transparent.

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