One-man panel to probe telecom licenses from 2001-09

Govt announces committee after the SC favoured a probe into 2G scam from 2001 onwards

PTI | December 9, 2010



A day after the supreme court favoured the probe into 2G scam covering the time since 2001, the government today announced setting up of a one-man panel to look into the spectrum allocation procedures and policies during 2001-2009, a period that includes NDA regime.

Announcing the decision, telecom minister Kapil Sibal told reporters that the one-man committee of retired supreme court justice Shivraj V Patil, will "examine appropriateness of procedures (adopted) by DoT in the issuances of licences and allocation of spectrum during the period 2001-2009".

Incidentally, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata also sought a probe into spectrum allocation since 2001 saying the maximum flip-flops in the telecom policy occured during the BJP rule.

He also alleged that change from auction to revenue sharing for telecom operators at that time could have caused a loss of Rs 50,000 crore to the excheaquer, going by the yardsticks adopted by CAG for 2G spectrum.

The inquiry by the one-man committee is likely to be completed within four weeks so that the government knows the entire gamut of procedures adopted for grant of spectrum not only to 122 licencees (by former telecom minister A Raja in 2008) but also before that, both in the category of start-up and additional spectrum.

Once the government has the inquiry findings with it, a decision would be taken on how to move forward. "(The) objective is to tell people of this country that how the spectrum was given and we will put this in the public domain," he added.

During 2001-04, the BJP-led NDA government was at the centre. Former telecom minister A Raja had been saying that he only followed the policies of his predecessors. Raja was forced to resign last month in the wake of CAG report that put the revenue loss to the exchequer at Rs 1.76 lakh crore for distributing licences in 2008 at 2001 prices.

Sibal also clarified that a one-man committee had nothing to do with issuing show-cause notices to alleged ineligible applicants, which he said was a separate exercise.

There are several terms of references, which will be finalised with the one-man committee, Sibal said, adding that the committee will look into various procedures followed in issuing licences during the 2001-09 period.

When asked about the objective of such a committee when the government auditor CAG has already given its report, Sibal said, "CAG is a constitutional body, it has recommendatory authority. They (CAG) have given the report and the same is being examined by the Parliamentary Panel."

"Broadly speaking, we are looking at the internal departmental procedures adopted by the DoT during the period 2001-09 with the issuance of telecom, access service licences and allocation of spectrum to all telecom access service licencees during the above period," the minister said.

When asked if a decision would be taken, after the committee's report, whether the spectrum should be auctioned or not, the Minister said, "When we move forward, we shall decide in consultation with all stakeholders and see what is the best practice."

"...But we shall ensure that there is level-playing field in the telecom sector," he added.

The committee would have powers to convene any official of the DoT and the enquiry would be based on files and oral evidences but no former minister would be asked to appear before it.

He said the committee will examine procedures, policies and direction of the DoT and the government, and if they were consistently followed or not.

Sibal said the task of the committee would be to check whether the procedure was fair and transparent keeping with the principles of justice, identify instances of lack of transparency, deficiency in procedures, lapses at the policy level and procedural level, if any.

The panel will also look at "whether there were any violation of the policies that were laid down by the DoT itself and then of course remedial measures in that regard", Sibal added.

The minister said the one-man committee will have the right to call for records, any DoT officials, get a briefing on any matter.

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