R S Sharma, Chairperson of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), who was set to retire on Thursday, has been given an extension till September 30, 2020, according to an official order. “The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved reappointment of Shri Ram Sewak Sharma, IAS (retd) as Chairperson, Trai for a further period beyond 10.08.2018 up to 30.09.2020 i.e. the date date on which he attains the age of 65 years or until further orders, whichever is earlier,” a Thursday order from DoPT said.
Sharma was appointed as the chairperson of Trai in July 2015 for a three-year period, and a number of controversies have been stirred up during his tenure so far. The former director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India, earlier this month, triggered a debate around safety of Aadhaar by tweeting his Aadhaar number and challenging Twitter users to cause any harm from the knowledge of the number.
The 1978-batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer’s term as the chief of the telecom watchdog coincided with the entry of Reliance Jio and some of the decisions taken by Trai under Sharma, such as reduction in interconnect usage charges and allowing Jio to offer rock-bottom tariffs to consumers has been criticised by incumbent telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India. Trai had also ordered telecom operators to pay a penalty to their users of Re 1 per call drop effective January 1, 2016. However, this regulation was struck down by the Supreme Court later that year. In the most recent case, Trai was at loggerheads with iPhone-maker Apple for not allowing access to the phone-books of its users for the regulator’s do not disturb mobile app for curbing unsolicited commercial communications.
— Pranav Mukul (@pranavmukul) August 9, 2018
Under Sharma as the chairperson, Trai has also given suggestions on raging issues such as net-neutrality and data privacy in the telecom sector, which have been pegged by experts to be favouring the consumer. In 2015, Trai also turned down Facebook’s proposal to offer free web access to Indian consumers through a differential pricing plan.