Centre to address concerns on cancellation of 2G licences

Centre to address concerns on cancellation of 2G licences

New Delhi: The Union government will directly address concerns raised by the petition for the cancellation of second-generation (2G) mobile licences in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the government had indicated it would take a stand independent of the telecom companies in the matter, and on Wednesday, government’s counsel told the court, “There is more than one issue in this case—one concerns the government, and the other concerns the service providers."

Additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh also said there was no agreement among the telcos that are fighting to protect their licences from being cancelled.

“In this courtroom, there is no unanimity (among telcos) on what the government’s stand is. There are differences between service providers. There are texts and subtexts," she said.

Jaisingh told the court the government would be taking a stand on two issues—the policy and the action taken under the policy—and that attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati (who was not present at the hearing on Wednesday) would be addressing the court.

In the same proceeding, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, submitted a government letter that said the home ministry had expressed security concerns about DB Realty Ltd promoter Shahid Balwa’s involvement in Etisalat DB Teleservices Pvt. Ltd’s investments in Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd.

“They were considering whether or not Etisalat should be allowed to bring in foreign money," said Swamy.

Etisalat DB’s counsel Harish Salve said the home ministry had objected only to Balwa’s involvement and not to Etisalat per se. This was recorded in a home ministry report, which was sent to the finance ministry because Etisalat wanted a clearance to raise its equity stake in Swan.

Swamy said changes in the cut-off date were known even before the press releases of 10 January 2008 on this. He referred to a 9 January 2008 news report submitted to the court by Etisalat that referred to this.

This and other reports, including claims of informal inquires by department of telecommunications officials, are being used by Etisalat to defend its ability to furnish a demand draft of around Rs1,600 crore within 45 minutes on 10 January 2008.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, asked the court to use this case as an opportunity to give directions for equity in the distribution of the nation’s resources to private corporations. He said licences should be cancelled regardless of the concerns of foreign investors.

“This is the message that needs to go out to foreign investors—that this country is not up for loot."

He said corruption scandals were stopping honest companies from doing business in India.

In a related development, Idea Cellular Ltd’s managing director Sanjeev Aga was questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday in connection with 2G irregularities.

Aga is the 11th senior executive being questioned by the investigators. Idea was holding additional spectrum of 12.6 MHz in six circles, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report.

CBI is due to file its chargesheet naming the accused in the 2G spectrum case by 31 March.

The apex court has also directed CBI to submit a draft chargesheet four days before the deadline, as part of the court-monitoring exercise.

The apex court was also informed on Wednesday that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had submitted a report on 2G allocation and valued the loss to the exchequer at Rs1.24 trillion. The court has asked that the report be submitted for its consideration. The Justice Shivraj Patil Committee report is also being considered by the court.

Sahil Makkar contributed to this story.