‘I broke the cartel, brought new players’
On his 46th birthday, the controversy-mired Minister of Communications and Information Technology A. Raja defended his position on allegations of irregularities in distributing licences and spectrum to new companies. Excerpts from the interview with Manoj Gairola.business Updated: Oct 27, 2009 02:58 IST
On his 46th birthday, the controversy-mired Minister of Communications and Information Technology A Raja defended his position on allegations of irregularities in distributing licences and spectrum to new companies.
Why has controversy been chasing you ever since you took charge of the telecom ministry?
When I joined the ministry there was a cartel in the telecom sector. I broke this cartel by bringing in new operators. All my measures are aimed to bring down the tariff and boost tele-density.
There is an accusation that you violated the then existing policy norms by allotting telecom licences and spectrum on a first come first served (FCFS).
I would like to clarify that just 25 days prior to my taking over the office of telecom ministry, my predecessor had issued a licence on FCFS basis. The telecom licence regime came into existence through National telecom Policy 1999 (NTP99). After going through the records, I came to know that the issuance of licences has been followed on the basis of FCFS. All my predecessors, including Arun Shourie and others, followed FCFS policy. So for argument sake, if I had deviated from the FCFS policy, it could not be justified judicially and administratively.
But how do you justify the charge that you gave 2008 licences at 2001 prices?
After recommendations of TRAI, the fee was fixed as Rs 1,658 crore for pan-India licence. Fixing of fee is exclusively in the domain of TRAI. In 2007, when TRAI recommended that more operators should be permitted, it did not revisit this fee. In such a case, how can a minister be accused for not revisiting the licence fee that is not in his official ambit?
How would you justify the stake sale by Swan and Unitech soon after getting licence?
As telecom minister, I have to ensure that the licences are issued in accordance with NTP99) and recommendations of TRAI.
After issuance of licence, dilution of a company or offloading of shares is not in my domain. However, when there was a hue and cry that there was a windfall gain for some companies. After discussions, the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram clarified the position to the Prime Minister — in front of me. He said that it was not sale of equity by promoters. He said that valuations of companies reflected the “post money” invested in it, not just the value of licence or spectrum.
How do you justify the cut off date of September 25 for issuance of new licences?
After the August 29, 2007 TRAI recommendation that the new players be permitted, DoT received a large number of applications. On September 25, we issued a press release saying that October 1 was the deadline. However, since it was not possible to process all the applications, we decided to process those that came before September 25 first. We took solicitor general’s approval on this issue.