No malafide in allocation: Telecom ministers in 08-09

Written by Rishi Raj | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 20 2011, 08:34am hrs
The filing of a fresh case by the CBI relating to grant of excess spectrum to operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone (then Hutch) between 2001-03 may have generated a war of words between the UPA government and BJP, which led the then NDA government, but records show that telecom ministers of state stated in Parliament during 2008-09 that they found no malafide in spectrum allocation.

Defending the then NDA cabinets decision on spectrum allocation, the BJP today termed the CBIs move as a political conspiracy and a last ditch attempt to save home minister P Chidambaram in the case. BJP spokesperson and MP Prakash Javadekar said the CBI is being used as a tool by the Congress-led UPA government to protect Chidambaram, whom it alleged of being equally complicit with former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G scam.

However, all statements made by telecom ministers in the Parliament during 2008-09 never found anything malafide in the grant of excess spectrum to any operator. On the contrary, assertions were made more than once that all allocations were made subject to policies of the government of the day and there was nothing irregular about them.

For instance, this is what Shakeel Ahmad, the then minister of state for telecom, had to say in the Rajya Sabha on the issue on March 20, 2008: The initial spectrum has been allotted to the GSM operators based on their request and as per provisions of their respective service licence agreement subject to availability of spectrum. With growth of their services, additional spectrum beyond the initial spectrum has been allotted to GSM operators as per guidelines, orders and subscriber-based eligibility criteria in force at the time of allotment of such additional spectrum subject to its availability. Increased rate of revenue share is levied towards spectrum charges on total spectrum which includes additional spectrum. The annual spectrum revenues have increased about 80 times during the last decade.

Similarly, on April 28, 2008, the then MoS for telecom, Jyotiraditya Scindia, had this to say on the subject in the Lok Sabha: Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had raised some queries on spectrum-related issues and necessary information was provided to them. The initial spectrum is allotted to the mobile telecom services in accordance with relevant provisions of unified access service licence (UASL), subject to availability of spectrum. With growth of service and increased subscriber base, additional spectrum is allotted subject to availability as per eligibility criteria, which is based on the number of active subscribers, peak traffic of the operators network, demographic features of the service area. The subscriber-based eligibility criteria for allotment of additional spectrum to meet the growth requirements were revised in March 2006.

Subsequently, during August 2007, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) recommended stiffer subscriber-based eligibility criteria for allotment of additional spectrum, taking into account the latest technology developments, etc. The latest orders issued in January 2008 in this regard are based on Trai recommendations. These orders of 2006 and 2008 provide criteria for GSM spectrum allotment up to 15 MHz. added Scindia.

At another instance, when the issue was raised in the Lok Sabha on July 13, 2009, this is what was said by then MoS telecom Gurudas Kamat: The initial spectrum has been allotted to the GSM operators based on their request and as per provisions of their respective service licence agreement subject to availability of spectrum. With growth of their services, additional spectrum, beyond the initial spectrum, has been allotted to GSM operators as per guidelines, orders and subscriber based eligibility criteria in force at the time of allotment of such additional spectrum subject to its availability. There is no lacunae in the guidelines notified from time to time for spectrum allocation to the telecom operators.

Kamat again reiterated the same when the issue got raised in the Rajya Sabha on July 30, 2009. There is no violation of licence condition in the allotment of additional spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz, as such there is no proposal for recovery of spectrum, he had replied to a question then.