Telecom policy sound, scam if any will be dealt with: PM (Roundup)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NEW DELHI - In a very significant speech, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday asserted that there was nothing wrong with the current telecom policy that has paid rich dividend in improving tele-density and bringing down tariffs and “if there is a scam” in its implementation it will be dealt with.

“My own view has been as far as the telecom policy that was sought to be implemented by the United Progressive Alliance government, in the basic policy, there was nothing with that,” the prime minister told the Lok Sabha Friday.

“People talk of scams. If there is a scam, it must be dealt with. The law of the land must punish wrong doers but we must not overlook the fact of this tremendous growth of telecom sector which has taken place as a result of sound policies of our government.”

His reference was to the corruption scandal alleged in the award of radio spectrum, or airwaves - a scarce national resource - to mobile phone service providers in 2008 which the country’s official auditor felt had resulted in a loss of between $12.8 billion and $40 billion.

This had even resulted in DMK senior DMK leader A. Raja resigning as communicastions and IT minister Nov 14 last year and his subsequent detention for questioning by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) along with at least three of his key aides.

The prime said tele-density in India had witnessed tremendous growth over the years and that was made possible only through the National Telecom Policy — of not auctioning radio frequency spectrum.

“If you look at the figures, in March 2004 the tele-density in rural areas was 1.55 percent and in urban areas it was 20.5 percent. Total tele-density in India in March 2004 was 7.7 percent,” he said.

He said the figures in December 2010 show that the rural tele-density had increased to 31.18 percent and in urban areas it was 47 percent. “The total tele-density has gone to 66 percent,” he said.

“There is nothing wrong in the telecom policy. Our government has continued the same path and that policy has paid rich dividends,” he said.

This was the first time that the prime minister has spoken at length on this issue after it was alleged that the nation had lost huge sums of money because of favouritism in the allotment of spectrum.

In the backdrop of the award of second generation telecom spectrum, the prime minister said he was being asked about the concerns and problems in the sector as a whole and that his replies were based on one simple factor.

“My respectful answer to that is that when I look at the telecom policy the ministry had decided not to go for auction for level playing field — and we should continue this path. Telecom must become accessible,” he said.

At the same time, he added, he was aware of the way the policy was implemented.

“These problems are now being looked into by the joint parliamentary committee, public accounts committee and the Central Bureau of Investigation. Our government will fully cooperate with all these agencies to ensure truth comes out.”

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