During Sarma’s time at the helm of TRAI, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 2G licences

Former TRAI Chairman J.S. Sarma, an advocate of telecom sector reforms, has passed away after an illness. He was 65.

“Sarma, who presided over as Chairman, TRAI, from May 14, 2009, to May 13, 2012, passed away in Hyderabad on February 28, after a brief ailment,” a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India spokesperson said on Monday.

During Sarma’s regime, mobile number portability was introduced, allowing customers to switch telecom operators without changing their mobile numbers. The per-second billing plan was also mandated during his tenure.

Sarma, a 1971 batch Indian Administrative Service officer from the Andhra Pradesh cadre, initiated the process to stop telecom operators from activating value-added services such as mobile Internet and caller tunes without permission from the consumer.

Although the direction was challenged by operators in court, Sarma’s successor and present Chairman Rahul Khullar implemented the regulation in July 2013 with a provision that entitles customers to refund of money deducted for value-added services provided without their permission.

TRAI’s recommendations on ‘Spectrum Management and Licensing Framework’ in 2010 during Sarma’s tenure formed the basis of the new unified telecom licence regime under which spectrum was separated from permits. They also laid the ground for other telecom liberalisation measures such as spectrum auctions, sharing of airwaves and mergers and acquisitions.

During Sarma’s time at the helm of TRAI, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 2G licences and directed the regulator to recommend steps to auction the spectrum in the same manner as 3G airwaves were sold in 2010.

The TRAI’s recommendations for the 2G auction in 2012 drew criticism from the industry as the minimum price recommended by the regulator was a little above the rate companies paid for the 3G spectrum.

Sarma had no scope to make corrections as he retired in May 2012, six months before the auction was held in November 2012, attracting a poor response.

Sarma was a member of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal and served as the Telecom Secretary before becoming TRAI chairman.

Born in Vijayawada on September 4, 1948, Sarma graduated from Osmania University. He had an M. Tech degree in Applied Geology and a Doctorate in Public Enterprises from the University of Paris.

He had served in key positions with both the state and central governments in departments such as Fertiliser, Defence and Rural Development.

More In: Industry | Business