Warns Centre of contempt for failure to comply with the order

The Supreme Court, on Monday, while extending till January 11, 2013, the deadline for auctioning the 122 telecom licences relating to 2G spectrum warned the government of initiating a suo motu contempt and imposition of exemplary costs if the process was not completed on time as promised.

A Bench, comprising Justices G. S. Singhvi and K. S. Radhakrishnan, passed this order on an application from the Centre seeking extension of time limit, which expires on August 31.

In the interest of continuity of mobile phone subscribers, the Bench also allowed the existing telecom companies to continue their services till January 18. The Bench, while extending the time limit, also restrained all courts from entertaining any plea relating to the process of auctioning of the 122 licences.

In pursuance of the direction issued by the court last week, the Telecom Secretary, R. Chandrashekhar, filed a fresh affidavit giving a firm and irrevocable undertaking that the February 2 judgment on 2G would be implemented “fully, faithfully and as expeditiously as possible.”

Appearing for the Centre, senior counsel P. P. Rao, gave an assurance to the court that the process, which would commence in November, would be completed expeditiously. Justice Singhvi pointed out that no outer limit had been mentioned in the application as to when the process of auction would be completed. Justice Singhvi made it clear that the process would have to be completed in 60 days from the time of its commencement.

Appearing for the Centre for public interest litigation, Counsel Prashant Bhushan said almost seven months had elapsed since the date of the judgment but no steps were taken to comply with the directions. He said the Empowered Group of Ministers, at its meeting on July 24, noted that spectrum pricing issue was not be decided till the opinion of this Court was received in the Presidential reference. He said “This was based on the advice of the Attorney General” and added that every step was taken not to implement the judgment.

Not interested

Mr. Bhushan argued that the government was not interested in auctioning the licences and this was evident from the fact that it had virtually challenged the 2G verdict through the Presidential reference. Justice Singhvi told the counsel that “the opinion in the Presidential reference does not have the effect of undoing this (February 2) judgment.”

Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy drew the court’s attention to the delaying tactics adopted by the government at the behest of the telecom companies which were the beneficiaries of the 2008 allocation. He wanted the telecom companies to be asked to compensate the loss.