The Telegraph
Wednesday , November 28 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cell cash concern mounts

New Delhi, Nov. 27: This could be a double whammy for telecom newbies whose licences were cancelled by the Supreme Court in February but allowed to continue serving their customers till the radio waves (spectrum) were auctioned.

The apex court today said that these operators might have to pay at the current price for using the radio waves beyond the May deadline.

Such a situation arose because the government delayed the auction and the companies were unwilling to cut their customers adrift. Many customers had deliberately chosen to stick with these newbies because they were getting a better deal from them.

The court hasn’t taken a decision yet, posting the issue for hearing at a later date. But this will surely draw howls of protest from the companies.

Operators, who lost their licences, did not want to comment officially as they were worried about a legal backlash.

Some telecom executives, however, said such a move would go “against all technolegal tenets”.

They added that it would be unfair to charge a fee based on the current market prices of the spectrum. Moreover, there were no bids in four circles, raising a question about how the formula would be applied in these areas.

Public purpose

The apex court felt that the delay on the part of the government in conducting the auction subsequent to its February 2 judgment cancelling the licences cannot benefit the operators by default, as otherwise it would go against public purpose.

“Those licensees which were operating because of delay in auction must pay. The operators could not have operated if auction would have happened. We would ask the operators to pay for using spectrum. It is in public interest,” a special bench of justices G.S. Singhvi and K. S. Radhakrishnan said, while seeking the Union government’s view.

The apex court told senior counsel P. P. Rao appearing for the Centre that “by virtue of fact that the government was unable to hold auction as per the direction, the operators were allowed to continue with the operation and they should pay at the price fixed now. We will consider these things at the next hearing ”.

On February 2, this year, the apex court in a landmark judgment cancelled 122 2G licences, but allowed the existing operators to run for four months till May 2, after which the order was to become operative.

The concession was given to the government as otherwise it would affect normal mobile and telephony service across the country.

But since there has been a delay on the part of the government in conducting the auction for the cancelled licences and circles which was held only on November 12, the operators continued with their operations well beyond the May 2 deadline.

During the hearing, the apex court told Additional Solicitor General Harin Rawal to ensure that the co-ordinated meeting of the CBI, enforcement directorate and income tax to monitor the progress of the investigation in the 2G scam be held every fortnight instead of on monthly basis.