NEW DELHI: In a surprise move, the government on Tuesday decided to withdraw its review petition seeking clarity on the Supreme Court ruling which called for allocating all natural resources through auctions. The court had made this directive as part of its February 2 verdict, that cancelled 122 tainted telecom licences issued by former telecom minister A Raja in 2008. It is understood that since the government has sought clarity on similar issues through presidential reference, there was no point in pursuing a separate review petition.
Legal sources said that the government has once again bungled in its “directionless” legal strategy. They said, while a review petition is an adjudication, presidential reference is only an opinion.
The next hearing was listed for May 10 after the court issued notices seeking replies from the parties concerned — the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy.
In a letter to the registrar of the Supreme Court, the government through its counsel DS Mahra has sought the constitution of an appropriate bench at an appropriate date and time to avoid disruption of benches and any inconvenience to the judges. “In view of the fact that only limited notice has been issued, the petitioners (the government) do not want to press the review petition and will be praying for withdrawal of the review petition,” Mahra’s letter to the registrar stated.
The matter is before the bench of justices GS Singhvi and KS Radhakrishnan. With the withdrawal of the review petition, only the presidential reference made by the government under Article 143 of the Constitution remains before the court.
Through the reference, the government is seeking clarity from the court on seven counts, particularly on the legality of licences issued from 1994 till 2007, and whether incumbent operators should also be charged for spectrum held by them at the rate to be decided through the upcoming 2G auctions. It also wants to seek the SC’s stance on the legality of dual technology licences given by Raja to CDMA operators in 2007 to operate GSM services.
Though the government had not sought a review of the cancellation of licences, it had sought a limited review of the order through its petition filed on March 2, on the part mandating it to allocate all natural resources through auctions. This was seen by the government as a case of judicial overreach and against the tenets of separation of power between the legislature, executive and the judiciary. It had maintained that the court by asking the government how to allocate natural resources was usurping its powers to make policies.
The government’s view was that the court had failed to examine the vast range of options besides auction, which can be used to distribute natural resources, and had also failed to furnish reasons for arriving at these conclusions.
In its petition, the government had argued that the finding that a public auction is fair and transparent policy for allocation of natural resources “could not be arrived at without examining the vast range of methods other than public auction, whereby it can distribute natural resources” and no such examination was done on the issue.
According to the petition, the court failed to consider that grant of mining rights on first-cum-first-served basis has been in place since the enactment of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Act in 1957 and such Act doesn’t prescribe a policy of auction of mineral resources.