The gist of the government’s response to the flop auction of second-generation or 2G airwaves: “I told you so.”
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal today emphasized that policy must remain the prerogative of the government and that an “environment of sensationalism” is to blame for the poor response by telecoms to the auction.
In February this year, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 licenses sold in 2008 through a process allegedly bent by corruption; the court ordered the government to auction mobile airwaves instead. Last year, in a politically incendiary report, the government’s auditor CAG said that the country had lost up to Rs 1.76 lakh crore because telecom licenses and spectrum were not auctioned in 2008.
“The telecom story is no longer a story we can share with the world. Sensationalism took over.” Mr Sibal said today. “You cannot extrapolate figures and sensationalize them and destroy the hen that laid the golden egg,” he said.
Earlier this week, the government raised about Rs 9,000 cores – one fourth of its target – by auctioning spectrum. Less than 60 per cent of the airwaves on offer found takers because carriers found the auction too pricey- the reserve price was seven times higher than what companies paid in 2008. Four telecom zones, including the expensive Delhi and Mumbai circles, saw no demand.
His criticism of national auditor CAG was far more aggressive. “If you bandy about this figure…Rs 1.76 lakh crore…where is that? This is a lesson that all of us must learn: allow institutions charged with certain responsibilities to do those.”
The BJP’s Arun Jaitley accused the government of “celebrating the failure of sale of spectrum.” The attack on the CAG, he said, proves “this government has lost its sense of fairness.”