Double whammy for CVC

Written by Rishi Raj | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 4 2011, 09:32am hrs
It's double whammy for PJ Thomas. Not only did the Supreme Court strike down his appointment as chief vigilance commissioner, he now faces a CBI probe on his role as telecom secretary from October 1, 2009, till September 7, 2010, to ascertain whether he tried up to cover up the 2G spectrum scam. In fact, this was also one of the prayers in the petition challenging his appointment as CVC.

While ordering a probe by the CBI into the 2G scam under its supervision, the SC had also asked for an investigation into why the department of telecommunications did not take action against those licensees who failed to fulfil rollout obligations on time. In effect, this means the probe will have to discover why the DoT did not issue notices to the defaulting firms on time. Much of the period during which the notices were not sent was when Thomas was telecom secretary.

Thomas and his predecessor Siddharth Behura (who is in jail now) showed a great deal of laxity in taking any kind of action on the errant firms, most of which failed to meet the rollout obligations, which require companies to achieve at least 10% coverage in all districts within a year of being granted spectrum.

It was only on November 18, 2010, that the telecom regulator Trai wrote to the DoT recommending that 69 licences be cancelled on this ground. Taking cognisance of it, telecom minister Kapil Sibal sent show-cause notices to around 119 companies.

Since the new licences were issued in January 2008 and the wireless planning and coordination cell (WPC) granted spectrum in phases between 2008 and 2009, the monitoring of the rollout obligations should have begun from mid-2009 to mid-2010 for various operators.

Trai data shows that the due date of compliance of rollout obligation where the failure has occurred leading to cancellation or penalties is between January 10, 2009, and March 9, 2010 when Thomas was telecom secretary. A show cause notice to the defaulting licensees can only be issued once the DoT secretary signs it and puts it before the minister.

Further, for issuing show-cause notices for not meeting the rollout norms, the DoT need not wait for a Trai recommendation. This is because the first point of filing of data is the DoT, based on the report of their own enforcement and monitoring cells. So in fact the DoT should have issued show-cause notices and cancelled licences or charged penalties where appropriate.