In a PIL related to grant of 4G spectrum to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJIL), the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the government if it had powers to alter percentage of spectrum user charge payable by the telcos, whether it had so far made any such change and if it is considering to increase it from the present 1%.
A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur, while reserving its judgment on a PIL challenging grant of 4G spectrum (2300 Mhz) in 2010 to RJIL, asked the government to file its response within a week.
Asking Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to file its response as to how the government was fixing spectrum usage charges, the judges wanted to know — “whether the government or state authorities have power to alter the percentage of annual charge from 1% to higher amount; if you (government) have a source of power then what is the status with regard to exercise of that power; are you eyeing with the idea of increasing it; within how much time you will increase it and how 1% annual charge has been arrived at in the NIA.”
It also asked counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), and Reliance Jio to file a note in this regard.
However, during the hearing the court observed that it is not inclined to interfere in the case.
Bhushan told the court that Infotel Broadband Services Pvt (IBSPL) had won pan-India 4G spectrum in 2010 and RIL bought IBSPL within hours after winning the spectrum. Citing draft CAG report, he alleged that Infotel was acting as a front for RIL. Besides, every telecom operator is paying 5.5% of spectrum usage charges except Jio which is paying only 1%, he added. He said that the Centre’s decision to allow voice telephony has given undue benefit of about R22,842 crore to RJIL and corresponding loss to the government and “is therefore arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory.”
It also alleged that the company was allowed “backdoor entry” into voice telephony using BWA spectrum in 2013 by paying entry fee of meagre amount of R1,658 crore determined way back in 2001, a figure which was rejected by the apex court in its February 2, 2012, judgement in 2G spectrum allocation scam case.
The PIL has also sought quashing of the permission granted by the government to Reliance for providing voice telephony on Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum and pitched for a court-monitored CBI investigation in the alleged Rs 40,000-crore scam.
However, the government denied any illegality in granting voice telephony to RJIL on 4G spectrum. Kumar disagreed with claims made by Bhushan that Infotel Broadband Services (IBSPL), the sole winner of pan-India airwaves in the 2300 MHz band (used for 4G services), was a front company for RIL in spectrum auctions carried out in 2010. Soon after the 2010 sale ended, RIL bought 95% in Infotel and later renamed it Jio.
The S-G told the court that the action taken report has been submitted by the government to the CAG and it is under consideration.