|Friday, 22 July 2011 00:00|
The regulatory stalemate over the issue of cancelling 74 of A Raja’s 122 licences has reached levels that bring to mind what happened in 2003 when the government and the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) were locked in a similar battle—the TDSAT said the abuse of the WiLL-mobile licences had to stop but the government refused to implement the order, preferring instead to come up with a new Universal Access Service Licence to regularise the abuse. In the current case, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) told the government eight months ago that 78 licences issued at bargain-basement rates by Raja (a few were issued by his predecessor Dayanidhi Maran) had to be cancelled as they had not even rolled out their services. Trai broke this up into 43 who had not rolled out at all, and 31 who had made technical rollouts—they had installed equipment like base transmission stations but had no subscribers—in the stipulated time period.
The telecom ministry took over six months to respond and then said that only 12 of the 74 needed to be cancelled. Given Trai’s recommendation was based on fact, it is not clear how the ministry reached this conclusion. It asked Trai to re-examine its recommendation, Trai did so and, with legal opinion from two retired Supreme Court judges, reiterated its earlier stance. The ministry, FE has reported today, is now scouting for its own legal opinion to counter this, and the debate is over what actually constitutes a rollout—do you have to have customers or is it enough to have some equipment on a telecom tower; in other words, do you have to comply with the letter or the spirit of the law? That the ministry should be treating the regulator in this manner doesn’t bode well for the industry.