Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha on Wednesday said the government will not shy away from taking “bold” decisions to rescue the telecom sector from financial stress but such action cannot be based on just one-sided picture. In an interview to PTI, Sinha said telecom sector has been the flag bearer of Indian liberalisation story and the government will ensure it continues to be so.
An inter-ministerial group, constituted to study the level of financial stress in the telecom sector and suggest remedial measures, is likely to submit its report within a fortnight, he said. “Once the report is with us, then based on the report we will take immediate action,” he said. “Government is not scared to take bold decisions.” With old and new mobile phone operators ascribing different reasons to the financial stress in the sector, the minister said the government has information on all factors and has studied all aspects.
“Government will not take decision based on comments from one side or on one side of the picture,” he said. United against newcomer Reliance Jio, the three incumbent operators — Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular – have cited Rs 4.6 lakh crore of cumulative industry debt to demand raising of the call termination charges from current 14 paisa per minute as well as reduction in licence fee, spectrum usage charges and GST.
One of the incumbents has even demanded a floor price for voice and data services so no company like Jio can offer free services to disrupt the market. Jio, backed by India’s richest person Mukesh Ambani, ascribes the financial stress in the telecom sector to existing operators like Bharti Airtel and Idea running businesses on debt and investing heavily in unrelated sectors.
Sinha on Wednesday assured that the government will act swiftly on the recommendations of the inter-ministerial panel, which has been formed to look into the financial stress of the telecom sector and to suggest remedies. He said that the IMG will submit the report very soon. “Shortly. Maybe, a fortnight,” he said when asked about the timeframe for submission of the report. The IMG has held extensive dialogue with all telecom players as well as large banks to discuss the industry’s financial difficulties and look for measures to ease the situation.