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Back to 2001 with spectrum-sweeper judge

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 10.12.10
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New Delhi, Dec. 9: The UPA government has sprung on the BJP a one-man committee that will examine the accuracy of telecom procedures followed for nearly a decade, including three years when the NDA was in power.

The committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge Shivaraj Vir Patil will look into the procedures adopted by the department of telecom (DoT) for allocating spectrum from 2001 to 2009.

The Supreme Court had yesterday said “what happened in 2001 needs to be looked at”, spurring a relieved government to act within 24 hours.

Justice Shivaraj Vir Patil has been given four weeks to complete the investigation and suggest remedial policy action. The government appears to be hoping to come up with some information that may help it break the Parliament impasse, which has washed out the winter session, before the crucial budget session.

“We are looking at the internal procedures adopted by the department of telecom while giving 2G licences and spectrum between 2001 and 2009 to check if there has been any violation in following the rules,” said Kapil Sibal, who took over after A. Raja was forced to resign as telecom minister.

As the committee will study all telecom licences from 2001, decisions taken by the NDA government will also come under its scanner.

This is being seen as an attempt by the ruling Congress-led coalition to get back at the BJP which has stalled House proceedings demanding a full parliamentary investigation into the 2G allocations made two years ago.

Sibal made it clear that the findings of the committee would be made public. “(The) objective is to tell people of this country that how the spectrum was given and we will put this in the public domain,” he said.

Asked about the need for the committee when the government auditor has already given its report, Sibal said: “The CAG is a constitutional body, it has recommendatory authority. They (CAG) have given the report and the same is being examined by a parliamentary panel.”

The BJP-led government had been accused in the past of changing policy to allow telecom operators to skirt a commitment to pay an annual licence fee. Instead, they were allowed to migrate to a financially softer regime of sharing part of their revenues. Detractors have also accused the then NDA government of other policy changes that allegedly favoured particular telecom firms.

“The committee will examine if the procedures were consistently followed, whether there were any deviations from set policy framework, whether DoT’s directions at various stages of policy change were relevant and whether the procedures followed were fair and transparent,” Sibal added.

The committee will have the right to seek any record from the DoT and ask officials to explain the documents.

The entire gamut of allocation of spectrum to mobile operators will be studied by the committee to identify instances of lapse at policy or procedural level, the minister added.

“The objective is to bring to public the process and rationale behind the policy of allocating spectrum over the years,” Sibal said.

The government will take a decision on action on the basis of the committee’s report. The current spectrum controversy revolves around the sale of telecom licences at low prices.

Sibal said the ministry would ensure a level playing field for all stakeholders. He added that the committee had been set up because the government wanted to solve the problem “here and now” and quickly.

The telecom ministry will send notices by the end of this week, to five companies that were given 85 telecom licences in 2008, asking why their permits should not be cancelled after the government auditor found they were ineligible.

The ministry will also send separate notices to 119 telecom licensees that have not complied with obligations on rolling out services.