The 2G spectrum auction case has taken an interesting turn with the Supreme Court on Tuesday hinting that it could ask telecom operators like Telenor and Sistema, who continued to use spectrum though it had cancelled their licenses due to delay in their fresh auction, to pay for using the radio waves on the basis of the current price band.
During the inconclusive hearing in a law suit filed by the Center for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) relating to cancellation of 122 licenses given away by the then telecom minister A Raja in 2008 to some select few operators, the too court also expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s approach in putting the spectrum to auction.
Refraining from taking an immediate call on its suggestion regarding charging for the spectrum due to delay in auction by the government, judges remarked the telecom operators could not have operated if auction would have happened.
The apex court had on February 2, while cancelling 122 2G licenses, allowed them to run for four months after which the order was to become operative.
While the date for cancelled license holders to cease operations expired on May 2, the apex court allowed the operators to continue providing services as the Centre failed to put the spectrum on auction till November 12
“They should pay at the price fixed now,” judges added.
Coming to the telecom policy as enumerated by minister Kapil Sibal last year, the court has asked the government to specify whether another round of 2G auction will be held end-March.
It also asked for all the documents and material relating to the policy and inquired about the basis of a press release in January 2011 saying spectrum will not be bundled with license during the auction.
Sibal’s statement carried in a DoT press release of January 29, 2011, said that the government would make a directional “shift from past practice” and bring in a “fresh policy” regarding spectrum.
Defending the government’s policy, P P Rao said some spectrum licenses have been kept for refarming.
But telecom companies’ lawyer said the press release is silent on refarming.
The Supreme Court seemed to believe that a second auction would be a complicated process.
Remarked Rajan Matthews, director general, COAI: “Looking at the reviewing process by DoT, a final decision on the auction process may not be likely before mid-February. The government also has to ensure the new auctions are held by June-July 2013, in case it wants to go in for refarming.”