Ever since the 2G spectrum scam broke out in 2010,Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has been arguing that revenue generation was not the main objective of governments telecom policy. But his attempt to put his argument in writing in the new telecom policy was today shot down in the Cabinet.
It is learnt that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee took strong objection to the inclusion of a line in the new National Telecom Policy which stated that direct revenue generation would be a secondary objective. Mukherjee said revenue generation for the country could not be called a secondary exercise and,in any case,there was no need to include such a statement in a policy.
Accordingly,the line was dropped and replaced with a more neutral statement,that availability of affordable and effective communication for citizens will be at the core of the vision and the goal of this policy. A similar reference in the preamble of the policy was also replaced.
The reference on revenue generation was just one of the contentious points over which ministers raised objections to the policy proposed by Sibal. The policy was approved by the Cabinet only after Sibal agreed to make some crucial changes in the document.
The National Telecom Policy 2012 will replace a 13-year-old policy brought by NDA government in 1999. It aims to increase rural teledensity to 70 per cent by 2017 from the current 39 per cent and to 100 per cent by 2020. It also talks about making roaming free within the country,complete mobile number portability,convergence of network,services and devices,and making India a global hub of manufacturing mobile handsets.
Sibal was forced to agree that any major changes in this policy would have to be approved by the Cabinet afresh and it would not be the prerogative of the Telecom Ministry to make amendments to the policy. Sources said this was done to ensure that a situation similar to the one that resulted in the 2G spectrum scam under the then Telecom Minister A Raja was avoided. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia,Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath were amongst those keen to set up such an arrangement.
Some ministers,including Home Minister P Chidambaram,are believed to have pointed out that the government had,over the last few months,ceded the policy-making initiative to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). These ministers wanted Sibal to categorically state that policy-making function would continue to remain with the government. The new policy talks about reviewing the Trai Act.
The Cabinet also forced Sibal to delete a paragraph that talked about bringing in a new Spectrum Act to lay down the rules for allocation of spectrum for various purposes.
Sibal later told reporters that allocation of licenses and spectrum,which have now been delinked,would be governed by market-related mechanism under the overall objective of providing efficient and affordable telecommunication services to everyone.
He said the mobile handset would become an instrument of empowerment and steps would be taken to make the country a manufacturing hub of mobile handsets so that prices of these devices go down and become more affordable to a large section of the society.
The policy seeks to provide a predictable and stable policy regime for a period of about ten years. The policy would be operationalised by bringing out detailed guidelines,as may be considered appropriate,from time to time, a statement said.
* Telecom licences have been delinked from spectrum which was earlier bundled with the licences
* Aims at increasing penetration of telecom services in rural area to 70% by 2017 and 100% by 2020
* Cabinet clears point that pertains to encouraging domestic manufacturing of mobile phone handsets
* Targets full mobile number portability,free roaming across the country