'2G auction by Aug 31 not possible'
The inter-ministerial group (IMG) under the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), set up to conduct the auction of 2G telecom spectrum, has concluded it would not be possible for the government to complete the auction by August 31 as directed by the Supreme Court.
DoT has decided to raise the issue with the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on telecom when the group meets next, under a new chief. Now, the EGoM not only has to decide the 2G auction base price and how incumbent operators should pay for existing spectrum, but also take a call on the IMG’s observations.
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The IMG has also suggested the government bring to the Supreme Court’s notice the constraints in meeting the deadline.
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When former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee resigned from the Cabinet to contest the presidential elections, the telecom EGoM he headed was left without a chief. The government then appointed Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar as head of the EGoM. However, within three days, he quit the post.
The IMG, in its meeting just a few days ago, had said important decisions on the base price of the 2G telecom spectrum, as well as on the roll-out obligation for operators, had not yet been taken by the EGoM. It said an auctioneer could be selected only after the final guidelines were issued, adding the selected auctioneer would require adequate time for designing the auction, owing to its complexity. Also, it would take time to secure the various certifications and compliance certificates of the auctioneer’s software and hardware.
In its meeting on June 5, the EGoM took key decisions on how much spectrum should be auctioned. However, it did not decide on the crucial base price of the 2G spectrum, fixed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India at Rs 3,622 crore for 1MHz. This recommendation was, however, criticised by mobile operators, who alleged it would increase rates for customers.
A meeting of the EGoM was scheduled on June 21, but it was postponed indefinitely after Mukherjee decided not to preside the meeting. This was because he had already been nominated as the United Progressive Alliance’s presidential nominee.