Putting up a defiant face to the Supreme Court’s indictment of its spectrum sale policy,the government on Thursday passed the blame on the previous NDA regime for putting in place a ”faulty policy” on allocating spectrum which his government then merely followed.
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said the Supreme Court has criticised the first-come-first-serve policy. This was set by the NDA. Its Cabinet passed it on October 31,2003. We followed it. The court found the policy discriminatory,not the fact that we followed it, Sibal said.
Sibal also said the government has learnt a lesson from the verdict — ministers must consult all on policies and not commit irregularities.
He ducked a question on why the UPA government should blindly follow procedures put in place many years ago. He was asked why the UPA thought that the NDA policy was “cast in stone”.
Sibal was also flustered when asked why licences granted by NDA telecom ministers were not cancelled if the Supreme Court only found the policy faulty,and not its implementation. “At that point of time,we thought the first-come-first-serve policy was okay. Now we shall reconsider,” Sibal said.
Nearly four hours after the Supreme Court’s verdict to revoke 122 telecom licences given by A Raja,Kapil Sibal said the judgement had ended the two years of uncertainty in the sector and brought clarity on how things would now be taken forward.
We welcome the verdict,we will wait for TRAI’s recommendations and proceed with the direction of the court, Sibal said.
Sibal said the court’s verdict was consistent with the government’s policy. I have said earlier that we will delink licence from the spectrum, he said. He assured corporates that the government would have fresh rules in place within four months the deadline set by the apex court to set the ball rolling on the way forward on spectrum sale.
Sibal said the court’s castigation of Raja was also in keeping with the government’s views on the issue if the minister has committed irregularities,they will be looked into.
Dismissing the view that the Supreme Court’s judgement cancelling 122 2G licences was an indictment of the government’s policy,Sibal said the government would now move forward in the issue after regulator TRAI make its recommendations.
“There is no indictment of the Prime Minister or the then Finance Minister (P Chidambaram) in the Supreme Court’s judgement. If there is any indictment it is of the 2003 policy (first-come,first-serve) of the NDA government and we only followed it,” he told a press conference after the Supreme Court judgement on the issue.
The government will abide by the judgement that spectrum should be auctioned which,he said,the ministry has done by delinking spectrum from the licence in 2011 after he took over.
He reiterated the UPA only followed the policy of the NDA government,which has now been declared discriminatory by the apex court. The BJP,therefore,must apologise to the nation from the nation for causing huge loss to the government,he said.
Asked about the implications of the judgement on companies like Telenor of Norway and Sistema of Russia who have pumped huge money to roll out services,the minister said any agrieved corporate can approach the court for relief.
The confusion has been removed and clarity has been brought in the sector and this will help in getting investments in the important sector.
While blaming the NDA for the 2003 policy which the UPA implemented,he sought to shift the blame on then telecom minister A Raja.
“The Supreme Court has clearly said the then minister (Raja) did not heed to the good advice of both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Finance Ministry,” Sibal said. Sibal said there was problem in the implementation of the policy and “that is why Raja is where he is”.
At the same time,in reply to questions,he denied he was blaming Raja or the UPA ally DMK. “DMK is our valued ally and they will continue to be our valued ally,” he said.
Asked whether Chidambaram was guilty of omission by not preventing the scam,he said there was no time for Chidambaram to know that wrong was being committed.
Asked whether the first come policy,which is also applicable in other sectors like mining,could be impacted by the judgement,the minister said: “It could be.”
He,however,said the government would not preempt a revision of the policy in other sectors.
“Why should we preempt,there are statutes in other sectors,let the Supreme Court strike it down,” he said.
Sibal said the court ruling has brought clarity to a sector that has undergone much uncertainty for the last two years and one that is also ”crying for the investments”.
About losses to the government,he said: “There is no question of loss if the policy is right. If it is wrong,then you will have to calculate losses from October 2003 when the policy was implemented.”
Asked what lesson the government has learnt from today’s judgement,Sibal said “ministers must consult everybody… and not commit any irregularity.”
Asked about the implications of the apex court’s verdict on customers,Sibal said: “The Supreme Court by its order has also made sure that customers are not affected. Why? Because this order will not be operative for a period of four months. In the meantime,TRAI will give recommendations and we will auction spectrum. Customers will not be impacted.”
He also said the financial implications of the verdict are yet to be seen.
Earlier,Trai had issued a draft exit policy seeking comments from the stakeholders aimed at providing a route to companies which want to leave the telecom sector.
While stating the details were still being worked out,DoT officials said an estimated 536 Mhz of 2G spectrum would be freed following the cancellation of the 122 licences.
“Barring five out of the 122 licences,all have been allotted 4.4 MHz each,” DoT Secretary R Chandrasekhar said. When asked if the order would affect FDI inflow into the sector,he replied it would be on the contrary.
“After the Supreme Court verdict,there is clarity,sanity and hope that it will get larger investors in the sector,” Sibal said.