|Now Trai says it’s illegal|
|Thursday, 17 March 2011 00:00|
On July 1, 2009, the Delhi High Court quashed the press release through which the then telecom minister A Raja issued 122 licences in January 2008 to firms at bargain-basement rates. On November 24, 2009, this was upheld by a division bench of the same court which was so upset with the government’s appeal against it, it even asked the government to pay costs. On March 12, 2010, the Supreme Court upheld the high court order. On January 31, 2011, Justice Shivraj Patil, who was asked to examine the Raja licencing along will all others since 2001, said the procedures adopted were a “deviation from the extant policies”. And now, on Wednesday, Trai has said in an affidavit to the Supreme Court that the government never even asked it for the mandatory recommendation that is required under the Trai Act before it went ahead and issued the licences. The Trai affidavit says the government never told Trai that new licences were to be issued, and then misused its recommendations. It says that if the government really wanted to issue new licences, it should have given Trai the details it had sought on the amount of spectrum that was available—this was critical since the existing players would also need fresh spectrum as they got more subscribers—and after this, Trai could have gone ahead and made a recommendation on whether new players were to be allowed or not.
What is even more shocking, the Trai affidavit makes it very clear the government always intended to misuse its recommendation. When the then Trai chief Nripendra Misra realised the government was planning to issue new licences, he began writing several letters to the telecom ministry to remind it that no new licences could be issued with Trai’s recommendations. To which the then telcom secretary S Behura replied saying ‘new’ actually referred to a ‘new category’ of licence and not just to a new licence under an old category!
With even Trai now repeating what other worthies such as the country’s courts and the one-man committee appointed by the government to inquire into all telecom licensing between 2001 and 2009 have said, it is not clear what further evidence the government wishes for before it cancels the Raja licences. Whether the investigative process is able to prove Raja’s criminality, along with others who have been arrested, the licensing procedure has been proved to be unlawful.