The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Gita puts mobile Mahabharat on hold
- Reliance-struck cellular operators chant shloka and decide to wait

New Delhi, Nov. 6: Mantras come easy to corporate boardrooms. But they rarely ever seek nirvana in love’s labour.

In the deepening gloom among cellular phone operators knocked cold by the unified telecom licensing approved by the cabinet last week, there is solace now only in the Gita.

Karmanyevadhikaraste/Ma phaleshu kadachana.”

You only have the right to work, not to claim its fruit, Krishna told Arjuna.

“Executives representing Bharti and Hutch were so disappointed (with the turn of events) that they invoked the famous shloka from the Bhagwad Gita. Spirituality seems to be the way to attain moksha in the existing telecom scenario,” said sources who attended the meeting of the new executive council of the Cellular Operators’ Association of India here today.

Set this against what’s happening in the rival, Reliance Infocomm, camp that has benefited the most from the policy change to unified licensing. By now, champagne bottles would have stopped popping at Reliance — after all, it’s been a week since the cabinet approval. But it is talking about unleashing a price war on its cellular competitors.

Gloom hung over the cellular operators’ meeting which decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court against the unified licensing regime, though the government has not only rejected their objection to its introduction but also their demand for compensation.

This sounds fatalistic in the light of the fact that the unified licensing regime will give more power to Reliance which has already racked up 5 million subscribers in its limited mobility service, which is limited in name alone as it uses an ingenious technique of multiple registration and call forwarding to provide a virtual roaming facility.

Cellular operators said the unified licence legitimises Reliance’s practice, letting it get away with a violation of rules under which it was given the right to operate a limited mobility service.

“We have decided not to appeal against the unified licence regime in the Supreme Court,” cellular industry sources said after the meeting that was anything but unanimous in its outcome.

Two of the operators wanted to go to court but one of the large players opposed it and that view held sway. It was decided instead to await the outcome of the appeal in the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the wireless in local loop, or limited mobility, service which Reliance offers.

The appeal is coming up tomorrow.

T.V. Ramachandran, the director-general of the cellular operators’ association, however, said this was the first meeting of the new executive council where members discussed the issues before the industry but took no decisions.

“Since we are yet to formally receive a letter from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India giving the details (of the unified licence), it would not be right to deliberate too closely on it,” he said.

The sources said the operators are likely to hold another meeting to discuss the question of seeking compensation from the government because of an unexpected change in the policy regime since they paid huge amounts in licence fees.

It was decided that operators should also await the outcome of their coming meeting with finance minister Jaswant Singh before rushing to court.

“At the next meeting we will also discuss some burning issues in the cellular industry that will impact our survival before we raise them with the finance minister,” sources said.

To acquire a unified licence, Reliance will have to pay Rs 1,581 crore, including a penalty of Rs 485 crore for flouting the conditions of the limited mobility service, a figure that is considered by the rival side as a small price for the benefits that accrue to the company. Reliance has readily agreed to pay the amount.

Email This Page