New Delhi: The cabinet committee on infrastructure (CCI) has forwarded the proposal for a one-time fee on spectrum for incumbent operators to an empowered group of ministers (eGoM) that is looking into the spectrum auction rules, raising the prospect of the department of telecommunications (DoT) approaching the Supreme Court for a further extension in the deadline for the forthcoming 2G auction.
The eGoM will also have to decide on whether the operators will be charged for the spectrum based on the auction-determined price. The eGoM is expected to reply to the cabinet, which will take the final decision on the issue. This eGoM is currently without a chairman after former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee resigned to contest the presidential election and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar asked to be recused. The proposals have been vehemently opposed by the finance ministry as well as the Planning Commission and the department of industrial policy and promotion.
DoT had proposed a number of options, including charging for all the spectrum held by the operators, charging for spectrum held above the start-up 4.4 megahertz (MHz) and charging for spectrum held above the contracted 6.2MHz. The cabinet has to also decide whether to charge for the spectrum retrospectively or prospectively, at the price discovered in the coming auction.
The Supreme Court has set a 31 August deadline for the conduct of the auction.
The cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Tuesday approved a proposal to enhance the budget for building an optical fibre network for the defence forces by Rs 5,236 crore. State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd is looking into the laying of an alternate communication network based on optical fibre for the defence forces in return for the vacation of spectrum by the military. The spectrum is needed by the country’s telecom service providers, which are facing a severe shortage of the resource.
The main reason behind the increase is the change in specifications and other requirements by the army and the navy, and the network is expected to be ready in the next three years.
The Union cabinet also approved the export of two million tonnes (mt) of wheat at a floor price of $228 (Rs 12,495) per tonne. A panel headed by the commerce secretary comprising the secretaries of agriculture, food and civil supplies, expenditure and the chairman of the Food Corporation of India will work out the modalities for the implementation of the decision.
“We are conscious of the changes in international prices,” food minister K.V. Thomas said. “Prices are firming up. Also, the fact that the monsoon is 31% deficient has been kept in mind while taking the decision. Our foodgrain position is stable.”
The minister pointed out that the Union government had already cleared an additional quota of 5 mt for below-poverty-line families, 1 mt for above-poverty-line families, and 3 mt for open market sale to be released to the states.
The CCI also cleared the Rs 5181.79 crore Kochi Metro project for a 21.56km line from Aluva to Petta. The project is expected to be completed in 48 months.
The cabinet cleared the proposed petroleum, chemical and petrochemical investment regions in Koodallur and Nagapattanam in Tamil Nadu. The Union government will provide viability gap funding— grants given to make projects financially viable—of Rs 1,143 crore for the Rs 13,354 crore project. The budgetary support will be Rs 1,500 crore and private sector investment is expected to be Rs 9,845 crore.
The cabinet also approved the disposal of about 350 tonnes of Union Carbide toxic waste from Bhopal in Germany. This followed the recommendations of a group of ministers on the Bhopal gas leak chaired by home minister P. Chidambaram, officials said. According to the proposal, the Centre will pay Rs 25 crore towards the cost of airlifting the waste, which will be carried out by German agency GIZ IS. The waste is proposed to be removed within a year. About 346 mt of toxic waste is lying within the premises of the erstwhile Union Carbide India Ltd in Bhopal.
PTI contributed to this story