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Stock-taking meet on telecom tangle

New Delhi, May 12: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today held an emergency meeting to take stock of the work being done at the telecommunications and disinvestment ministries.

The meeting was attended by communications and information technology minister Arun Shourie, finance minister Jaswant Singh and BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu.

Vajpayee wanted to know by how much basic telecom rates had risen from May 1 — an issue that has snowballed into a major controversy with the Opposition using every opportunity to embarrass the government. Basic telecom rates have risen five to six times with a concomitant reduction in the number of free calls.

Speaking to the media after the meeting, communications minister Arun Shourie said: “The Prime Minister was briefed about the various issues on telecommunications. No decision was taken on any of these issues. The Prime Minister wished that Vidya Vahini and Gyaandoot projects should be extended to Jammu and Kashmir. These projects are under implementation in the north-east.”

Vidya Vahini and Gyandoot projects have been undertaken to network the various educational institutions in the country. Under this project, long distance education using very small aperture terminals is to be offered to far-flung areas.

When quizzed about the issue of launching telecom services in the north-east and Jammu and Kashmir, that were scheduled in April, Shourie said: “The Prime Minister was briefed about the security issues of launching telecom services in the north-east and Jammu and Kashmir. He himself is aware of these issues.”

While Shourie refused to divulge further details of the meeting, sources said, the Prime Minister inquired the minister about the issue of telecom rates and the steps taken to solve the issue.

Sources said: “The Prime Minister sought to know how the ministry plans to solve the current confusion. Shourie explained that the issue is before the telecom regulator and it would be prudent to wait for their exercise to determine the future course of action.”

Maruti’s IPO was also discussed and Singh sought to know about the details of the latest initiatives by the disinvestment ministry. The meeting, which lasted for 45 minutes, also discussed disinvestment of other public sector units that are to be taken up during this financial year.

“Since Shourie will leave for a one week tour of the US and Scandinavian nations from Wednesday, the meeting was convened to get some idea about the future course of action on disinvestment and telecom rates. But no decision was taken and another round of meeting will be held immediately after Shourie's return,” sources said.

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