NEW DELHI: The telecom department (DoT) is likely to approach the Supreme Court (SC) the day the ongoing mega spectrum auctions end, seeking an early resolution to cases filed by some mobile phone operators challenging certain clauses of the sale rules, a senior government official said.
Last month, the apex court had allowed DoT to conduct the auctions from March 4, but asked it to withhold the results until the court decides on the various cases filed by the operators. While the court has scheduled the next hearing for March 26, many expect the sale to get over well before that day, raising uncertainty over the declaration of results.
“To comply with the current order of the Supreme Court, we might not even disclose the final result of the auctions until the issue is resolved,” said the official, requesting not to be named. The official explained that the department may discontinue with its ongoing practice of disclosing the circle-wise results and even the total amount the government might have earned, once auctions end, unless the sale continues well past March 26. “The final decision hasn’t been taken as yet,” he said.
Although the official said it is hard to predict when the auctions will end, analysts said the slowing intensity in bidding indicates that the sale is winding down. Over the past 13 days, telecom operators have bid over Rs 1.08 lakh crore for buying airwaves in the 2G bands of 900 MHz band, 1,800 MHz and 800 MHz, and the 3G band of 2100 MHz. This is the highest grosser so far, ahead of the record Rs 1.06 lakh crore earned by the government in 2010 auctions of 3G and 4G bandwidth.
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications have contested various provisions in the Notice Inviting Applications, or the auction rule book, in several high courts. The Supreme Court transferred all the cases to itself, after the telecom department sought their early quashing.
Bharti Airtel, along with Reliance Communications, had won a case in the Tripura High court pertaining to the block size of spectrum being sold, but that was challenged by DoT in the Supreme Court, which subsequently stayed the order.
Independently, Airtel challenged the spectrum cap provision in the NIA which restricts it from buying any new airwaves in Karnataka, Mumbai and Delhi circles while Reliance Communications sought an increase in the supply of ‘fall back’ airwaves in the 1800 MHz band.
Idea Cellular had contested the provision, which allowed an existing player in the 900 MHz band to bid for incremental quantity of 0.6 MHz of spectrum while a company like Idea, all of whose airwaves in the 900 MHz spectrum in the UP circle are being put up for auction, will have to bid for a block of 5 MHz. This, Idea argued, would allow an existing player to keep increasing the price of the airwaves, thus making it more difficult for the AV Birla Group company to win back spectrum.
(Source: The Economic Times, March 19, 2015)