In a surprise move, telecom regulator TRAI has increased the number of licences to be cancelled over operators' failure to meet roll-out obligation to 83 from its earlier recommendation of 74.
"... Now the figure stands at 83 who will be issued show cause notices (SCN), which includes 15 issued earlier," a senior Telecom Ministry official said.
"... The operators will be given 60 days' time to respond and the final decision (on licence cancellation) will be taken after the opinion taken from the Attorney General or Solicitor General," he said.
According to sources, telecom minister Kapil Sibal has also written a letter to the DoT Secretary to issue SCNs to all defaulting operators, as recommended by TRAI. Sibal also sought a legal opinion from the Attorney General on the issue.
"There were some legal issues on which minister had sought a legal opinion," the official added.
In an internal note, Sibal asked the Department of Telecom to give due consideration to the responses that are received from telecom operators in this regard, sources said.
In its first set of recommendations, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) called for the cancellation of 69 licences, but later found five more licenses were eligible for cancellation.
However, the DoT, after reviewing the first set of recommendations from the telecom regulator, found only 15 telecom licenses fit for cancellation and asked TRAI to review its recommendation.
Subsequently, in July, the regulator replied to the DoT after taking the opinion of two former Supreme Court Judges, who supported its recommendation for cancellation of 74 licences.
TRAI contended that while some operators had not rolled out their networks in 43 licence areas at all, only a 'technical' rollout was effected in 31 licence areas.
The regulator further said that these operators have not complied with the requirement for filing their tariffs, have not submitted their subscriber numbers and did not pay licence fees.
Under the licence conditions, the DoT has the power to impose a fine of 5 lakh per week for the first 13 weeks of delay in network roll-out, 10 lakh for the next 13 weeks and 20 lakh for delays up to 26 weeks. If any operator fails to fulfill the obligation even after 52 weeks of delay, then the licence can be terminated.