So it appears that India’s the Telecom Ministry may have been in hibernation for a few years – at least that’s what statements made yesterday by current Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal seems to suggest. Sibal announced that the ministry will send out show-cause notices to erring telecom operators on account of not meeting rollout obligations, and “suppression” of facts at the time of applying for a 2G license, which allowed them to benefit from a first-come-first-served policy. The companies will have 60 days to respond.
The Ministry has identified 119 instances of violation of either of these two criteria, 85 of them related to companies giving themselves self certification related to their Memorandum of Association or the increasing of their paid up capital at the time of application, without either process having been completed with the Registrar of Companies. They’re looking at rollout obligations not being met, since 2006: companies need to cover 10% of district headquarters in a license area in first year of the license, and 50% of the district headquarters within three years. Some companies that haven’t fully rolled out services – Videocon, Etisalat DB, Loop Telecom and STel. Additionally, the Comptroller and Auditor-General had said in the report that some new telcos – Unitech Wireless (Uninor), Datacom (Videocon), Swan (Etisalat DB) and STel had not met the eligibility criteria. There’s also the case of Allianz Infratel being given licenses for two circles almost six months after the allocations were made to the rest.
These are technicalities, and may be used to cancel licenses, or even cancel licenses for certain circles, but this shouldn’t take away from the fact that the government also needs to answer for why no action for taken for over two years. Sibal said that a new policy framework will be rolled out in a few weeks, but that’s hardly any consolation following a tenure of allegedly tainted and opaque governance.
Then again, keep in mind that these are showcause notices, only the first step before any concrete action is taken.