Govt wants to know details of telcos’ foreign connections

Govt wants to know details of telcos’ foreign connections

New Delhi: India wants to know more about foreign companies and individuals investing in the country’s phone firms because it is worried about the use of mobile telecommunication networks by terrorists.

The country raised the ceiling on foreign investment in phone firms to 74% in February 2005, but did so after considerable debate and on the condition that key executive positions in these firms be held by Indians. The new rules guiding foreign investment in phone firms, notified by the foreign investment promotion board, or FIPB, which regulates foreign investment to India, and the Union home ministry, which oversees the country’s internal security, come on top of this.

Many of the details concern individuals who are either investing or are on the board of companies investing in Indian phone firms. The details include name, parentage, date of birth, nationality, address, and passport number.

An FIPB official, who did not want to be named, said the notification was prompted by the home ministry’s identification of telecommunication as a so-called sensitive sector after the recent terror attacks in Bangalore, Jaipur, Surat, Ahmedabad and New Delhi.

“All proposals in respect of telecommunication sector are now required to be approved by the ministry of home affairs," said a notice posted on the FIPB website.

Home ministry officials were unavailable for comment.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the home ministry’s clearance would entail a delay in approvals for foreign investment.

The notice on FIPB’s website asking telecom operators to furnish details of directors was posted on 18 September, five days after the serial blasts in New Delhi on 13 September that killed 25 people.

Siddartha Behura, secretary, department of telecommunications, or DoT, confirmed that a notification had been put out but declined further comment.

A top executive of a foreign telecom firm that is rolling out mobile phone services in the country said his firm is ready to provide additional information. “All the information are available with concerned ministries. If they (government) require more, I am ready to file it," he said, asking that he not be named.

Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said similar security concerns have been raised in the past. “This seems to be obviously inspired by security concerns...when Orascom wanted to come in from Egypt, there were concerns about security implications..."

“There is a certain concern about communication networks being controlled by foreign companies whose interests may not be friendly to India. This seems like the first step towards concretely addressing the issue," Hegde added.

With 305.24 million subscribers at the end of August, India is the world’s second largest market for mobile phone services after China. It is also the fastest growing market for such services in the world.

Sanjiv Shankaran and Malathi Nayak also contributed to this story.