The National Telecom Policy was adopted by the cabinet on May 31, 2012. It was released in public domain later in June. Among other things, the policy aims to provide a single licence framework, un-bundle spectrum from licences, and liberalise spectrum.
Previously, the central government had decided to unbundle spectrum and licenses for all future licences on January 29, 2011. TRAI too in its recommendation dated May 11, 2010 and April 23, 2012 sought to de-link spectrum from licences. The Supreme Court in the 2G judgment had held that spectrum should not be allocated on a first-cum-first-serve basis and should instead be auctioned. In the April 23 recommendations, TRAI has detailed the mechanism for auctioning spectrum.
TRAI has also recommended moving to a unified licence framework under which a single licence would be required to provide any telecom service. It has also recommended that spectrum should be liberalised so that any technology could be used to exploit it.
The new policy is in line with the government decisions and TRAI recommendations discussed above. The policy also aims to achieve higher connectivity and quality of telecommunication services. Its key features are detailed below.
- Licensing: Presently, as per the 2003 Amendment to the 1999 Telecom Policy, there are two forms of licences – Unified Service Licence (to provide any telegraph service in various geographical areas) and Unified Access Service Licence (to provide basic and cellular services in defined service areas). The new policy targets simplification of licensing framework by establishing a unified license for all telecom services and conversion to a single-license system for the entire country. It also seeks to remove roaming charges.
- Spectrum: As of now spectrum bands are reserved on the basis of technology that may be used to exploit them. For instance, the 900 and 1800 bands are reserved for GSM technology and 800 for use of CDMA technology. The new policy seeks to liberalise spectrum. Further, spectrum would be de-linked from all future licenses. Spectrum would be refarmed so that it is available to be used for new technology. The policy aims to move to a system where spectrum can be pooled, shared and traded. Periodic audits of spectrum usage would be conducted to ensure efficient utilization of spectrum. The policy aims at making 300 MHz of additional spectrum available for mobile telecom services by the year 2017 and another 200 MHz by 2020.
- Connectivity: The policy aims to increase rural tele-density from the current level of approximately 39% to 70% by 2017, and 100% by 2020. It seeks to provide 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by 2020 at a minimum 2 Mbps download speed. Higher download speeds of 100 Mbps would be made available on demand. Broadband access to all village panchayats would be made available by 2014 and to all villages by 2020. The policy aims to recognise telecom, including broadband connectivity, as a basic necessity like education and health, and work towards the ‘Right to Broadband’.
- Promotion of domestic industry: The policy seeks to incentivise and give preference to domestic telecom products in procurements that (i) have security implications for India; or (ii) are for the government’s own use. It also seeks to establish a Telecom Finance Corporation to mobilise and channelise finances for telecom projects.
- Legislations: The policy seeks to review the TRAI Act to remove impediments to effective functioning of TRAI. It also seeks to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The need to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was also recognised in the 1999 Telecom Policy.
The policy as adopted can be accessed here.
Criminal laws in India by way of “sanctions” allow for protective discrimination in favour of public officials. Under various laws, sanctions are required to investigate and prosecute public officials. Over the past 15 years these provisions of law have been revisited by the judiciary and the legislature. Recently the Supreme Court in the Subramanian Swamy Case has suggested the concept of a deemed sanction. We look at the history of the requirement of sanction under criminal laws.
Requirement of sanction to investigate certain public servants of the union government was introduced through a government notification. The Criminal Procedure Code 1973 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 provide that to prosecute a public servant, permission or sanction has to be secured from the government (central or state) for which the official works.
Arguments that are often advanced in favour of such sanctions are that these ensure that (a) frivolous and vexatious cases are not filed, (b) public officials are not harassed, and (c) the efficacy of administrative machinery is not tampered with. Further, the requirement of sanction to investigate was also defended by the government before the Supreme Court in certain cases. In Vineet Narain vs. Union of India 1997, the government had argued that the CBI may not have the requisite expertise to determine whether the evidence was sufficient for filing a prima facie case. It was also argued that the Act instituting the CBI, Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946 (DSPE Act), granted the power of superintendence, and therefore direction, of the CBI to the central government. The Court in this case struck down the requirement of sanction to investigate. It held that “supervision” by the government could not extend to control over CBI’s investigations. As for prosecution, the Court affixed a time frame of three months to grant sanction. However, there was no clarity on what was to be done if sanction was not granted within such time.
Following that judgment, the DSPE Act was amended in 2003, specifically requiring the CBI to secure a sanction before it investigated certain public servants. More recently, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 that is pending before the Rajya Sabha, removed the requirement of sanction to investigate and prosecute public servants in relation to corruption.
Recently, Mr. Subramanian Swamy approached the Supreme Court for directions on his request for sanction to prosecute Mr. A Raja in relation to the 2G Scam. As per the Supreme Court, judgment in Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr, Mr. Swamy’s request was pending with the department for over 16 months. The Supreme Court held that denial of a timely decision on grant of sanction is a violation of due process of law (Right to equality before law read with Right to life and personal liberty). The Court reiterated the three month time frame for granting sanctions. It suggested that Parliament consider that in case the decision is not taken within three months, sanction would be deemed to be granted. The prosecution would then be responsible for filing the charge sheet within 15 days of the expiry of this period.
 Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr. Civil Appeal No. 1193 of 2012 dated January 31, 2012
 Single Directive, No. 4.7.3
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has invited suggestions on “Recent Developments in the Telecom Sector including allocation of 2G and 3G Spectrum”.
Comments are invited from experts, associations, individuals, organisations and institutions interested in the matter.
Comments have to be sent in to: Director (PAC&CS), Lok Sabha Secretariat, Room No. 401, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi – 110001 (Ph.: 23034401, 23035236), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments have to be sent in within 15 days.