As the telecom department (DoT) ordered the telecom operators to pay their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues by midnight on Friday, 14 February, former deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, spoke to The Quint’s Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia regarding the circumstances that the telecom sector has found itself in.
“The telecom sector is in a lot of stress right now. I won't say that the government wants to destroy the sector because it could have done something worse. Our laws have good intentions behind them but the institution that we establish to implement them can have a lot of loopholes,” he said.
Talking about AGR, he said that, “If you will suddenly direct them to include certain revenues, which the bidders did not anticipate then... If you will put such a big burden on the companies, then, it will naturally become a huge problem.”
‘Need a Greater Level of Transparency’
Ahluwalia said, “The government will see how to interpret the law. But if this interpretation by the government is correct, then the law must be faulty. And it shouldn't have been done,”
He continued, “The problem is that if anyone says that the law should be changed, people will say that it was done to favour a company.”
Ahluwalia stressed on the need for cultivating trust between the public and the government, and a greater level of transparency.
The Supreme Court, on Friday, ordered contempt proceedings against major telecom operators, after the companies did not comply with its order of paying the AGR to the Department of telecommunications (DoT), a due amount of Rs 1.47 lakh crore.
On Vajpayee & Changes in Telecom Policy
During the term of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the National Telecom Policy in 1999, released by his NDA government, paved the way for structural performances in the sector.
During his regime, the government separated the Department of Telecom from service provider arm BSNL.
“When Vajpayee was prime minister, the telecom companies used to offer huge bids. But it was only figured out later that this is not sustainable. His government brought about a change on the basis of the policy,” he said.
He pointed out that, back then, this move was met with a lot of criticism. But it did not become an issue until 2010.
He cited that the political parties did not realise the power of social media and how to use it efficiently.
The objective of digitalisation depends on how our telecom companies are doing.
“Out of the three major companies, two might collapse unless the government does something. Let’s wait and see,” Ahluwalia further stated.
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