|It’s just a law, guys!|
|Thursday, 24 February 2011 00:00|
After defending A Raja’s granting of licences at bargain-basement prices, and then arguing there was no loss caused by this, the government’s arguments seem to have hit a new low. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has just filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, which argues that it wouldn’t be in the public interest to cancel the licences, even though they have failed to roll out their networks as per the licence conditions. The licence conditions, which the affidavit reproduces, are very clear—if the networks are not rolled out within the stipulated period, there will be a penalty of Rs 5 lakh per week for the first 13 weeks of delay; the penalty rises to Rs 10 lakh per week for next 13 weeks and Rs 20 lakh per week for the next 26 weeks, after which the licence can be terminated—so even while the government gave out cheap licences, it argued the rollout conditions would ensure precious infrastructure would get built. And now we have the government arguing that these rollout conditions aren’t quite as important as was made out.
Here’s what the affidavit says, “… penalties have already been imposed. It may be mentioned that … experience all over the world shows roll out may get delayed … but by itself cannot result in cancellation of the licences … If a licence is to be cancelled after it is acted upon, only on account of delayed roll out, the investment made in infrastructure etc would be rendered nugatory which may not be in public interest.” While the affidavit later says the DoT is examining termination where the delay is more than 52 weeks, the long preamble indicates the lack of seriousness being attached to the violation. Or is it that the government isn’t revealing its mind?
The overall argument, of creating what are called facts on the ground, is increasingly becoming the standard excuse for inaction on illegality. Sure, the licence was illegal, but other companies have bought into them now, investments have been made, there are subscribers … in the case of illegal real estate projects, the argument will be loss of jobs, innocent home-buyers etc. Last but not least is the argument the latest affidavit in the Raja case makes, “It is submitted that issues relating to investments made and FDI receipts to the country may have to be also taken into consideration.” Is this really the government policy or is it that the affidavits aren’t being monitored by senior officials?