Says it ignored important bodies such as Telecom Commission, TRAI to favour operators

The Justice Shivaraj V. Patil Committee Report on procedures followed in issuing licences and allocating spectrum between 2001 and 2009 has found that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was also guilty of deviating from prescribed policies and ignoring important bodies such as the Telecom Commission and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to favour operators.

The Report has documented several instances where these policies — ranging from granting of licence to allotment of spectrum — have gone against the grain of established principles. Like the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the NDA also adopted and applied the ‘first come, first served' (FCFS) policy “without consistency” and “without any nexus to the objective” of selecting licensees under the National Telecom Policy 1999.

During the NDA regime (between 2001 and 2004), the Report observed that allotment of additional spectrum was opposed not only “to principles of fairness and transparency” but also “extant policies and directions.” In some orders issued by Telecom Department in 2001 and 2002, the Committee noted that allotment of spectrum was based on “subjective stipulations” of “availability and justification,” without prescribing the criteria for allotment.

In fact, the criteria for “efficient use of spectrum by cellular services” were recommended by a “technical committee” that comprised the Cellular Operators Association of India and the Association of Basic Telecom Operators, among others.

In August 2003, the Telecom Minister (Arun Shourie) approved these recommendations without placing them either before TRAI or the Telecom Commission. These orders were not even “notified to existing operators or the public.”

However, in the case of Bharti Airtel Ltd., “an allotment of spectrum” was made for the Delhi service area in July 2003, seemingly “in anticipation of the report” by the technical committee. “In the absence of laid-down procedure,” the Report categorically terms such a decision “improper.”

Even in the FCFS policy, the Report noted that there were no guidelines for identifying the “exact point or event for reckoning priority among various applicants,” making the process “wholly subjective and arbitrary.” Both Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Tata Telecom Services Ltd. had pending applications when it was decided in 2003 to adopt the FCFS policy, and this “could have been unfair to other intending applicants.” Perhaps, the most direct accusation of favouritism made by the Report relates to the application of FCFS policy to select operators during the NDA regime. In November 2003, a procedure was formulated “to accept Unified Access Service Licences [UASL] in the form prescribed for Basic Service Licences [BSLs].”

In any case, this was a “deviation from” the TRAI recommendations accepted by the Union Cabinet.

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