NEW DELHI: After getting the approval of Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati for seeking a Presidential Reference on the Supreme Court’s February 2 orders cancelling 122 mobile permits issued in 2008, the telecom department has moved a Cabinet note on the issue and sought the inputs from all ministries.
The government will go ahead with the Presidential Reference only after the union Cabinet approves the plan.
The apex court, while quashing all mobile licences issued by former telecom minister A Raja, had also directed the government to redistribute these permits and airwaves through an auction process.
The Cabinet note, a copy of which was reviewed by ET, states that the Supreme Court order contained several important observations, including that the first-come-first-served policy to award mobile licences was ‘flawed and had inherently dangerous implications’, and also that all natural resources should be distributed through an auction process, and emphasised that a Presidential Reference was required on the various questions of law arising from this order.
The Presidential Reference seeks clarity from the apex court on seven counts, particularly on the legality of mobile licences issued from 1994-2007, and if incumbent telecom companies should be charged for the spectrum held by them at the rate to be decided through the upcoming 2G auctions. It also seeks the SC’s stance on legality of dual technology permits given to CDMA players Raja.
The government also wants the apex court’s opinion on whether auctions should be made mandatory for allocation of all natural resources, or whether the February 2 judgement applied only to specific circumstances.
It also wants the Supreme Court to clarify whether the third-generation airwaves held by some companies, whose permits were cancelled, should revert to the government. ET had first reported the seven-point Presidential Reference in its March 13 edition.
Most issues raised in the Presidential Reference have been covered in the telecom department’s review petition. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had thrown out the review petitions of seven companies whose licences were quashed as a result of its earlier order, but agreed to hold further hearings on the government’s review petition asking it to reconsider its order making it mandatory to auction natural resources, on the ground the ruling was an unacceptable foray into the domain of the Executive.
The Centre’s review petition also seeks that the apex reexamine its ruling that bars the state from allocating natural resources on first-come-first-served-basis, a policy followed to allot mobile permits in 2008.
The Presidential Reference will also seek the SC’s opinion if preferences should be given to companies whose licences were cancelled for allotment of airwaves even if it is at the auction discovered price.
It also plans to seek the court’s opinion regarding a ceiling on the total airwaves that can be held by a company ‘for the purpose of avoiding the emergence of dominance in the market’.
The Presidential Reference also states that even if auction were to be the only legitimate mode of allocation, there was no competition in several spectrum bands, as in the case of CDMA players in the 800 MHz band.