‘No transparency, exchequer suffered huge loss'

Telecom Watchdog, an NGO, on Saturday filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a CBI probe into the allocation of excess spectrum to the existing operators in violation of norms and thereby causing a huge loss to the exchequer.

It filed a petition through advocate Prashant Bhushan seeking transfer of the writ petition, pending in the Delhi High Court, in which Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar, Reliance Telecom, Idea Cellular, Loop Mobile, Spice Communications and Aircel Cellular were cited as respondents who received spectrum allocation in excess of their contractual entitlement but without paying any entry fee, etc. The petitioner alleged that the Centre did not follow even its own February 1, 2002 order, which said that “additional allocation could be considered only after a suitable subscriber base, as may be prescribed, is reached.”

The petition said: “Many operators had obtained 2x10 MHz spectrum [from July 2003 onwards] years before the announcement of allocation criteria [March 2006]. This way the Centre has caused a substantial loss to the exchequer to provide benefit to the private operators. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, in its August 28, 2007 recommendations to the government while tightening the spectrum allocation, also recommended levying of a licence fee for any spectrum allocated beyond 10 MHz [since by then many operators had already acquired Spectrum up to 10 MHz].”

The Telecom Commission agreed with TRAI and it recommended levying of a usage charge for allocation of additional spectrum from 2x8 MHz to 2x10 MHz to all the existing operators beyond 4.4 MHz/ 2.5 MHz in the GSM/CDMA band prospectively from the date of allocation, after a decision by the government in this regard, at the price to be discovered through auction. However, now the Telecom Ministry sent the recommendations to the Law Ministry for its opinion and the matter was pending. The petition alleged that the Centre's action in allocating spectrum over and above the contracted amount non-transparently led to a huge loss to the exchequer.

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