The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to respond to a PIL filed by an NGO challenging the grant of 4G licences to Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL).
The notices to the two came on a public interest litigation by Aam Admi Party leader Prashant Bhushan's NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), challenging the government's decision to allow RJIL, which had bagged a 4G services licence (called Broadband Wireless Access or BWA), to offer 4G voice services as well.
CPIL has alleged RJIL was allowed a "backdoor entry" into voice telephony using BWA spectrum by amending the company's licence conditions on payment of an entry fee of Rs. 1,658 crore. This was the amount Reliance Communications had paid the government in 2001 to convert its fixed telephony licence to a Unified Access Service License (which allowed it to offer mobile telephony) on the grounds that "the march of technology" could not be held back by creating artificial barriers between mobile and fixed line telephones.
In 2001, India's mobile subscriber base was less than 100 million against more than 900 million now and the industry's revenues have grown more than 10-fold since then
A bench headed by Justice HL Dattu asked the Centre and TRAI to respond to CPIL's plea that this was a Rs. 40,000-crore scam and that a court-monitored investigation should be ordered.
CPIL was one of the petitioners before SC on whose plea the court had ordered a CBI probe into the 2G scam.
The petition said the Centre's decision to allow voice telephony has given RJIL undue benefit of about Rs. 22,842 crore and a corresponding loss to the government and "is arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory."
The Reliance Jio Infocomm spokesperson said, "We have not received any notice of any petition so far filed by Mr Prashant Bhushan. This appears to be one more in a series of attempts to create a controversy in a next-generation foray which Reliance is determined to create in the service of the nation."