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SC flays limited spectrum sale

New Delhi, Nov. 19: The Supreme Court today slammed the Centre for its “casual” manner of dealing with the auction of airwaves (spectrum) and turned down an affidavit filed by a junior ranking officer at the under-secretary level.

A bench of justices G. S. Singhvi and K. S. Radhakrishnan criticised the government for not informing the court that only a part of the spectrum shall be up for sale when it had sought an extension of the deadline to complete the auction process. “The government is very casual in dealing with the matter. We were not told in the last hearing that only a part of the spectrum will be auctioned.”

It asked the government to explain why all the spectrum released when the apex court cancelled 122 licences in February had not been put up for auction.

The court also rejected an affidavit filed by a junior ranking officer of the Centre denying the charge that the government had withheld certain portion of the spectrum in the November 12 auction.

Expressing displeasure at the affidavit being filed by an under-secretary rank officer, the judges told senior counsel P. P. Rao appearing for the Centre that the fresh affidavit should be filed only by the telecom secretary.

“This affidavit cannot be accepted. The under secretary has no business to file. He has no authority to file it,” the bench observed pointing out that during the earlier hearing it had made it unequivocal that any affidavit shall be filed only by the secretary. “It is unfortunate the same mistake has been repeated this time as well.”

The apex court had issued notices to the Centre on the pleas made by Idea Cellular and the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), challenging the government’s decision to restrict the sale of spectrum in the 2G auction.

The highly anticipated sale of spectrum turned into a damp squib last week with the government garnering only Rs 9,407.64 crore. Operators contended that small packets of air waves were being sold at very high rates. Telecom minister Kapil Sibal today told a TV channel that the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) would meet within a week.

Extra airwaves

In a separate case, the Supreme Court today said it would decide on whether Bharti Airtel and its chairman Sunil Mittal should be prosecuted or not on the allocation of additional spectrum during NDA regime, irrespective of opinions given by government law officers.

Meanwhile, the department of telecom (DoT) has sought another legal opinion on the matter of refunding the entry fees of telecom operators whose licences were cancelled by the Supreme Court, after an EGoM decided to adjust fees of only those companies who win spectrum in the auction.

Sistema plan

Sistema Shyam Teleservices, which is set to lose all but one of its 22 licences, is open to acquisitions in India.

Vsevolod Rozanov, president and chief executive officer of Sistema-Shyam, told reporters today that the company was exploring the possibility but would take a call only after the Supreme Court decided on the company’s appeal on the order to revoke its permits.

“Nothing serious to report on this,” he said when asked if Sistema was in talks with any company in India.

 
 
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