NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi should do former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee-like heroic act who back in 1999 intervened to save the telecom sector from a similar present day crisis, a Delhi-based telecom group said.
Following the recent Supreme Court verdict, validating the Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT) definition of adjusted gross revenue (AGR), the telecom carriers were asked to pay more than Rs 92,000 crore on account of license fee and spectrum usage charge together with penalties and interests.
“What lacks today is a political will. This is a fundamental issue,” Rajan S Mathews, director-general of a telecom group Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) told the PageOne.
Delhi-based COAI represents telecom carriers such as Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea as well as network providers— Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE.
Plagued with lowest average revenue per user worldwide, India’s telecom industry is currently reeling under a cumulative debt of nearly 7.75 lakh crore with next airwaves sales looming.
“We had a similar situation in 1999-2000, and then Mr Vajpayee took a very heroic decision. Many companies owed money while some had left. Mr Vajpayee then said that in the interest of nation, we have to do revenue share,” he said.
Nearly two decades ago, the Indian telecom sector had to pass through a similar turmoil, and the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government moved incumbent telcos from the fixed-licence-fee regime to a revenue-sharing model.
“We (industry) made some accommodation at that time and industry was receptive to more players, and by doing so, the government made more money. That was statesmanship,” Mathews added.
The industry veteran further said that Mr Modi has political capital and is known for transparency.
“In a difficult situation, making hard decisions and choices in the national interest are needed,” Mathews said.
Government should ensure competitive market environment with three to four incumbents stake which, according to the telecom body, would be a core to the sectoral health as well as good for a billion plus consumers.