Allegations around allocation of microwave spectrum baseless, says Sinha

Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha | File photo

Under attack for giving away valuable telecom spectrum without auction, the government Wednesday strongly defended administrative allocation of microwave spectrum, saying the bidding rules do not apply to backhaul airwaves, which are critical for maintaining connectivity.

With Congress calling allocation of microwave spectrum a scam, Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha cited the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, which had cancelled allocations done on the first-come-first-serve basis, to say that backhaul spectrum was not covered under the judgment.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report tabled in Parliament last week said microwave access (MWA) spectrum was allocated to a telecom operator in 2015 on first-come-first-served (FCFS) basis in contravention to the recommendations of a DoT-constituted committee, while 101 applications for microwave spectrum were pending with the government.

"I want to say that the SC order of 2012 was about access spectrum and not backhaul spectrum. It is not one service provider but all those who were genuine, were given microwave spectrum on an administrative basis, before and after the order," Sinha told reporters here.

The Congress had, earlier this week, demanded a probe into the matter following findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that a set of spectrum was allocated in 2015 on first-come-first-served basis in contravention to recommendations of a committee. The Congress had alleged that the CAG had found that various instances of spectrum mismanagement by the Department of Telecom (DoT) had caused a loss of around Rs 560 crore to the public exchequer.

"The allegations are baseless and without any evidence," Sinha said.

The minister asserted that so far the backhaul spectrum has not been auctioned, but allocated administratively, and added that telecom regulator too had recommended the same.

To a specific question on whether there is a decision to auction such spectrum, the minister said, "So far there is no decision...we are neither considering it nor studying". He said adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that whenever the government takes a decision, those allotted such spectrum will have to pay up, retrospectively.

Sinha also defended the decision on deferred spectrum liability, saying extending the period of making payments to 16 years would bring an additional Rs 74,446 crore to government coffers.

"When the inter-ministerial group gave recommendation (on the matter), it gave consideration to net present value and the same was the case with the Telecom Department and Telecom Commission, so the entire matter was well thought out, to see how urgent relief can be given to the sector without causing loss to exchequer," he said.

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