It’s really back to the future. The roots of the New Telecom Policy that communications and IT minister Kapil Sibal announced on Monday lie as far back as 2003, when the NDA was in power.
The key proposals — a single unified licence for all services and delinking spectrum from licence — were initiated during the NDA regime in 2003, following Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommendations in October 2003. These were subsequently approved by the group of ministers and the Cabinet. Arun Shourie was the communications and IT minister.
“It is recommended that within six months unified licencing regime should be initiated for all services covering all geographical areas using any technology,” the TRAI recommendations of October 2003 stated. “The regime would be finalised through a consultative process, once in-principle approval is received from the government.”
On October 31, 2003, the Cabinet approved these recommendations. “The recommendations of TRAI in regard to the course of action to be adopted subsequently in regard to the implementation of the fully unified licence/authorisation regime may be adopted,” the Cabinet note stated.
Two years later, on January 13, 2005, TRAI once again recommended that spectrum be priced separately. But till the new price mechanism is determined, “the existing spectrum pricing and allocation process will continue.”
These recommendations, however, were not followed by the then minister Dayanidhi Maran. “The TRAI’s recommendations…were not taken forward by the government,” said a Department of Telecommunications Action Taken Report, submitted to the Public Accounts Committee investigating the 2G scam last month.
“The October 2003 recommendations were indeed path-breaking,” said BK Syngal, former CMD of VSNL (now Tata Communications). “Had these been implemented, it would have avoided the current spectrum scam and loss of thousands of crores of rupees to the exchequer.”
The 2G scam “has its origin in manipulating the first-come-first-served policy, advancing cut off date to benefit two corporate groups,” said a former secretary of DoT.
In its May 11, 2010 recommendations, TRAI again strongly recommended the unified licence regime and delinking of spectrum from licences. Sibal has moved ahead on these recommendations. “Better late than never,” said Syngal.