Spectrum crisis deepens, TRAI cancels 69 licences


New Delhi : The opposition Thursday piled up heat on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the 2G spectrum scam after again paralyzing parliament, leaving the Congress groping for a strategy to overcome a crisis that refuses to go away despite the resignation of the tainted A. Raja.

Support TwoCircles

As the Supreme Court asked details of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s response to earlier pleas to take action against former and disgraced communication and IT minister Raja, the telecom watchdog recommended scrapping 69 of the 130 licences given for 2G phone services since December 2006.

The action by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was the first clear sign that the Congress-led government was starting to distance itself from the spectrum row caused by the DMK’s Raja.

“The roll-out of services on these licences has failed to comply with the set norms. Six companies had been given these 69 licences,” a senior TRAI official said. “These companies must also be penalized.”

Of the 69 licences, 20 were issued to Loop Telecom, 15 to Etisalat DB, 11 to Sistema-Shyam, 10 to Videocon, eight to Uninor and five to Aircel.

The TRAI suggestion come after the country’s official auditor said Raja even ignored the prime minister’s advice and allotted the radio frequency to new telecom players at low prices.

But with Manmohan Singh remaining silent on the Raja affair, opposition leaders remained wedded to their demand that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) should be set up to probe the scandal whose financial implications have stunned most Indians.

“Now even the Supreme Court has asked the prime minister to file an affidavit on why he was silent on the scam,” BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said, adding that the apex court had never questioned a prime minister since India’s independence in 1947.

“Raja said he had sought the prime minister’s permission for everything he did. It makes him (prime minister) equally responsible. He must come out with a clarification,” Javadekar said.

Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Brinda Karat made the same point, while her party colleague Sitaram Yechury said: “The prime minister will have to respond.”

Unable to persuade the opposition to cooperate, Congress sources indicated that the prime minister may Friday address parliament, which has been crippled for about a week over the spectrum saga.

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said after a meeting of top Congress leaders that any discussion in parliament should, however, cover the working of telecom ministers during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

According to India’s official watchdog, the improper allocation of 2G frequencies to telecom companies by Raja – the former minister claims he did no wrong — is estimated to have cost the exchequer Rs.176,000 crore (Rs.1.76 trillion/approx $39 billion).

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the main trouble shooter for the government, declared in Madurai in Tamil Nadu that the Congress electoral alliance with the DMK would continue, pouring cold water on the AIADMK’s bid to inch closer to India’s ruling party.

“Our alliance began in 2004 and has completed six-and-half years. (It) will continue,” he said at the wedding of fellow cabinet minister M.K. Alagiri’s son Dayanidhi.

Mukherjee said the Congress and DMK understood each other well and their electoral tie up would continue.

The Supreme Court asked Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam to file an affidavit by Saturday, detailing the government’s response to a petition by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy seeking sanction to prosecute Raja.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had taken exception to the 11-month “silence” of the prime minister on Swamy’s public interest litigation.

The AIADMK, the DMK’s sworn foe, alleged that the prime minister was quiet because “people at high levels” were involved in the spectrum row.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said a JPC probe should lead to the recovery of Rs.176,379 crore the government lost because of the way it was awarded.

Companies which got the 2G spectrum “at throwaway prices must be made retrospectively to pay the difference”, an editorial in the party’s organ, People’s Democracy said. The licenses of those who refuse to do so must be axed and these must be freshly auctioned.

“In the interests of the country, it is absolutely essential that this colossal scam must be thoroughly probed,” it said, underlining that this was the reason for seeking a JPC.