This edition of the Express Adda was hosted by hospitality partners Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi Race course, Mumbai. It saw Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad in conversation with The Indian Express National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra and National Bureau Chief Maneesh Chhibber.
This edition of the Express Adda was hosted by hospitality partners Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi Race course, Mumbai. It saw Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad in conversation with The Indian Express National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra and National Bureau Chief Maneesh Chhibber. Prasad took questions from a select audience, speaking about the call drop issue, Udta Punjab, and why people in public life need to have a sense of humour.
On the challenges of his ministry
When I took oath, my office was in news for all the wrong reasons. And I was advised I should change my chair because I was told that one of my esteemed predecessors had gone to jail and others may follow soon. I took a vow that I won’t change the chair but the texture of the chair. And today I can say that middlemen are completely banned from Sanchar Bhawan. Rules that were not decided for eight to 10 years — spectrum sharing, spectrum trading, liberalisation, harmonising — have been cleared by me. I am happy that the telecom sector has been able to receive R27,000 crore of FDI in the last two years. Telephone density and investment is rising. I am particularly satisfied with the BSNL turnaround story. When the Vajpayee government left office, it was of a profit of R10,000 crore, when the Manmohan Singh government left office it was in a loss of R8,000 crore. Within one-and-a-half years, it earned an operating profit of R6,000-8,000 crore.
On being called minister of call drops
I have cleared all policy initiatives pending for the last five to 10 years. I have been speaking publicly on this whole uncalled for menace of radiation, which has no medical basis. I have been telling the operators, you need to do your job. I can tell you that because of our persuasion, they have installed one lakh new sites in India. I am telling them clearly that for the success of Digital India, good connectivity is important and it is in your interest to do so. And I must acknowledge the role of telecom operators for having spread telephony in the entire country. I think they have the ability and the potential. We are working together. Things have started improving, they need to improve further. (On the Supreme Court intervention in this issue) We are proud of our judiciary but I would like to gently remind that the Supreme Court in the famous Kesavananda Bharati case said that separation of powers is also a basic structure. Governance is a part of the government, and governance should remain the preserve of the Executive.
On the SC striking down his NJAC Act
While holding the concept of independence of judiciary dearly, accountability of judiciary is very important too. And why did we go for the National Judicial Commission? It was my decision. About three-four Parliamentary Standing Committee reports, administrative reform recommendations, law commission recommendations and the late JS Verma himself publicly said the collegium system needs a rejig. The entire Parliament spoke in one voice. Now the judgement has come. I cannot make any further comment. But surely the National Judicial Commission architecture was a well-thought one, with extraordinary unanimous political consensus by lawmakers?
On Udta Punjab and a scissor-happy CBFC
I have been the I&B Minister under the Vajpayee government and let me say very clearly, we fully respect creative freedom. There is a proper legal procedure. If there are any wrong cuts, you can go for review, you can go to the Appellate Tribunal. Comments like these (CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani saying he likes being called a chamcha of the PM) need to be avoided. Our Prime Minister has always described himself as the pradhan sevak of India, and I don’t think a pradhan sevak needs sycophant.