Tuesday, 17 February 2015

N-E spectrum bidding: SC to decide on dispute, keeps Tripura HC away

New Delhi: Supreme Court today said it would take a decision on the dispute between the government and private telecom operators on the issue of bidding of spectrum for the North-East circle, instead of leaving it to the Tripura High Court.
"We make it clear that the order of the high court would not be relied upon by any of the parties," a bench comprising
justices Dipak Mishra and Adarsh Kumar Goel said while posting the matter for hearing on 25 February.
Supreme Court of India. Reuters
Supreme Court of India. Reuters
The bench was hearing an appeal filed by the Centre seeking stay on the high court's interim order allowing telecom firms Bharti Hexacom Ltd and Reliance Telecom Ltd to submit two bids for a total of 8.8 MHz spectrum in the North East circle.
Senior advocates P Chidambaram and L Nageshwar Rao, appearing for Reliance Telecom and Bharti respectively, opposed the submission of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the high court's order would give rise to lot of petitions on the issue.
The bench said it would examine the issue in the backdrop of the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
Rohatgi submitted that two private companies have been resorting to all tactics to retain their licences which are expiring after 20 years by the year-end and trying to upset the auction process starting on 4 March.
The firms contended that if a company bids for a minimum of five MHz spectrum of the total 8.8 MHZ spectrum, then there
cannot be two players in the field and the government would also loose revenue for the remaining 3.8 MHz spectrum.
However, Rohatgi said the remaining 3.8 MHz spectrum would remain in the kitty of the government and allocated as additional top-up in proportion to those who are not bidding.
The bench said it would hear the matter after getting the response of the two companies and rejoinder by the Centre.
The Centre contended that the high court has passed an interim order without even hearing them and it "completely upset the policy behind spectrum auction" and could have a "serious implication" on the entire tendering process.
The high court, in its interim order, had issued notice to the Centre on separate pleas by Bharti Hexacom Ltd and Reliance Telecom Ltd challenging the Centre's notice inviting bids on the ground that it has categorically said that applicant firm has to bid for a minimum of five MHz spectrum in the 900 MHz band in the circle.
The high court has observed that contentions of the firms that 3.8 MHZ spectrum could not be accepted as minimum of five MHZ spectrum criteria does not mean that an applicant cannot bid for 8.8 MHz radiowaves in the telecom circle.
The high court, while issuing notice to the Centre, has said the government cannot take any final decision on the issue without its permission.
The high court also allowed the two firms to submit two bids each, one for 5 MHz and one of 4.4 MHz spectrum.
The Centre, in its plea, claimed "it is not possible for the high court to rewrite conditions of a tender document at the behest of prospective bidders".
It also contended that the high court was not justified in passing the interim order without giving an opportunity to the Centre to file counter affidavit on the petitions filed by the two telecom firms.
It said that it has adopted a transparent procedure in entire auction process and it would not be able to go ahead if the directions of the high court were to be implemented.