Misra, Vaish to depose as Trai muddies waters

Written by Rishi Raj | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 8 2011, 09:24am hrs
Jolted by a recent letter from telecom regulator Trai stating it had never recommended auctioning spectrum or revising entry fees, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing the telecom scam has once again called former Trai chairman Nripendra Misra and ex-DoT secretary Vinod Vaish to depose before it.

Sources said both will visit the agency next week. The CBI wants to ensure that the Trai statement does not weaken its case and wants help from both these officials to finalise its stand and responses on auctions and entry fee revision in the light of the fresh disclosure.

Both Misra and Vaish have deposed earlier. Misra appeared over Trai's 2007 recommendations and the subsequent letters he wrote to DoT as well over the Aircel-Dayanidhi Maran case. Vaish was questioned regarding licensing during the period of former telecom minister Arun Shourie.

The upcoming depositions are significant because in its recent letter to CBI, Trai said it had never recommended auctions or entry fee revision. It has also said that it has always maintained that the government should not see telecom services and spectrum as a source of revenue. This would imply that the government lost no revenue when A Raja disbursed spectrum in 2008 a stand seen as weakening CBI's charge sheet in the spectrum scandal.

The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the case, has asked the CBI to place the Trai report before it, which the agency did on Tuesday. All the accused have also asked the trial court to put the Trai letter on record.

Misras deposition at this stage assumes significance because he had, in his recommendation, suggested revising the entry fee, though he did not suggest auction of spectrum in the 2G band.

Section 2.73 of his August 2007 recommendation states: The entry fee as it exists today is, in fact, a result of the price discovered through a market-based mechanism applicable for the grant of licence to the fourth cellular operator (2001).

In todays dynamism and unprecedented growth of telecom sector, the entry fee determined then is also not the realistic price for obtaining a licence. Perhaps, it needs to be reassessed through a market mechanism, it states.

In an interview to FE on November 14, 2010, Misra had said: The DoT never sought Trais recommendations on the need and timing of granting new licences as required under the Trai Act. It never made any reference to the regulator on fixing any cut-off date for accepting the applications. He had also written a number of letters to DoT stating there were deviations from his recommendations and the government should refer the matter back to it in case it wanted to issue new licences. These were rebuffed. The deposition of Vaish is also important because the Trai has said that it did not recommend auctions in its 2003 recommendations also. However, the Trai recommendation that year had said: The induction of additional mobile service providers in various service areas can be considered if there is adequate availability spectrum. As the existing players have to improve the efficiency of utilisation of spectrum and if government ensures availability of additional spectrum then in the existing licensing regime they may introduce additional players through a multi-stage bidding process as was followed for the fourth cellular operator.

Since Vaish was DoT secretary when this recommendation was debated and accepted by the government, he could throw fresh light on the matter to help CBI strengthen its case.