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Telecom panel plays second fiddle, DoT rules

The Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body in the telecom sector, made up of nine secretaries, seems to have lost its significance as the department of telecommunications (DoT) has been bypassing it on important issues, even while ignoring some of its key decisions.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2012 23:08 IST
Manoj Gairola

The Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body in the telecom sector, made up of nine secretaries, seems to have lost its significance as the department of telecommunications (DoT) has been bypassing it on important issues, even while ignoring some of its key decisions.

For example, a recent DoT proposal for cabinet seeking to impose a one-time spectrum charge on cellular operators, was not even sent to the Telecom Commission. “Such a proposal did not come to us,” a member of the commission told HT.

On the other hand, the communications ministry is reluctant to charge a one-time fee on the excess spectrum that incumbent telecom operators got beyond contractual obligations, as decided by the Telecom Commission in January. Excess spectrum was valued at about Rs. 30,000 crore by Comptroller and Auditor general (CAG).

The Telecom Commission was constituted at the initiative of telecom expert Sam Pitroda when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. Pitroda was its first chairman.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/7/10-07-biz-03.jpg

“The telecom commission was set up by the government of India vide notification dated 11th April, 1989 with administrative and financial powers of the government of India to deal with various aspects of telecommunications,” the DoT website states.

“The Telecom Commission and the DoT are responsible for policy formulation, licensing, wireless spectrum management….”

“When I was a member, all important decisions were taken by the Commission. No one could even think of taking a decision without telecom commission’s approval,” said KH Khan, former member Commission. He was member during 2003-04.

Telecom Commission includes the secretaries of finance, planning commission, industrial policy and promotion and the department of information technology, with the DoT secretary as its chairman. It has four other members who are ex-officio secretaries of the government.

In May 2010, TRAI recommended that the government should charge for excess spectrum from telcos. Then in January, the Commission decided that the operators should pay for the excess spectrum retrospectively. However, instead of charging for excess spectrum, the DoT sent it for the Presidential reference.

“Bypassing Telecom Commission is subversion of the system and is against business rules,” said BK Syngal, former CMD of VSNL. “There would not have been any controversy in the sector had telecom commission been kept in loop.”