The government is working on two key policy measures in the telecom sector, “one consumer-friendly and the other aimed at digital inclusion”, communications & IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told FE in an interview, to mark the first anniversary of the Narendra Modi government.
The consumer-friendly measure is to check the growing incidence of call drops while the digital inclusion would ensure that call centres come up in the small and mofussil towns of the country through a public-private-partnership (PPP) model.
Prasad also castigated the UPA regime for “bringing the telecom sector to a standstill” by its “corrupt practices”.
Stating that restoring hope and credibility in the Sanchar Bhavan (the building that houses the telecom ministry) was his single biggest achievement in the last one year, he said it lifted the utter sense of helplessness and despair which had set in amongst the officials during the UPA regime.
“The result is for everyone to see — the telecom department is free from lobbyists, functions on the basis of transparency and objectivity and is no more a boxing ring for industry players,” Prasad said.
The telecom minister also hit out at his predecessor, Kapil Sibal by stating that the Justice Shivraj Patil committee set up by him in the aftermath of 2G spectrum scam “unnecessarily targeted many officers which made them reluctant to take any decisions”.
“The Patil committee was set up by my predecessor just to square up the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report which had indicted the government and to justify Sibal’s zero loss theory,” Prasad said.
On the issue of call drops, the minister said, “I have asked the department of telecommunications to come out with a policy of disincentives in case of call drops. If need be the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India will also be consulted. The idea is that if there’s a call drop some free minutes accrue into the consumers’ account. As a telecom minister am accountable to the consumers,” Prasad said.
On the digital inclusion bit, the minister said that some 48,000 BPO seats would be created which would be distributed amongst small towns and cities across the states in proportion to their population.
“These BPOs would be set up by local entrepreneurs in partnership with private IT & BPO firms and the government would provide some subsidy. This will be a game changer. I want BPOs in places like Hazaribagh, Muzaffarpur, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Gorakhpur, etc. We are soon going to invite expression of interests for this,” Prasad said.
He said that major BPO and IT firms of the country have evinced interest in the project in their meetings with him.
On call drops, the minister said that he was fully aware that more towers need to be set up by the operators and people need to co-operate. “Am using all available platform to dispel the myth that telecom towers lead to health hazards. There are studies by the World Health Orgnaisation and court judgments which state that there are no hazards. I appeal to the people to appreciate and enable setting up of towers as this helps in addressing call drops”, Prasad said.
Consumer groups have been agitating against growing number of call drops while the mobile operators express helplessness stating that spectrum holding in India is small and they are facing resistance in setting up more towers as people fear that they emit electro-magnetic frequency which is a health hazard.
Prasad said that he’s fully committed to turning around state-owned telecom firm – BSNL and MTNL – and blamed the UPA regime for their current losses.
“Someone somewhere will have to take responsibility as to how BSNL earning a profit of Rs 10,000 crore in 2004 started posting a net loss of Rs 7,000 crore in 2014 when we came back to power,” the minister said.