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Voice telephony over 4G: SC notice to Centre, RIL, Trai

The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday issued notice to the Centre, Reliance Jio Infocomm and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on a petition seeking quashing of the permission granted by the government to Reliance for providing voice telephony on broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum, 4G spectrum. The petition also sought a court-monitored Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe on the alleged Rs 40,000-crore scam.

Counsel Prashant Bhushan for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (PIL) told a Bench headed by Justice H L Dattu that the government’s decision to allow “back door” entry of the company into voice telephony without an auction was in violation of the 2012 judgment in the 2G scam case.

Bhushan sought a court-monitored investigation into that decision of the government. The petition further seeks a court order directing the government to levy spectrum usage charges (SUC) for BWA spectrum at par with the other operators providing voice telephony.

“We have not received any notice of any petition so far filed by Prashant Bhushan. This appears to be one more in a series of attempts to create a controversy in a next-generation foray which Reliance is determined to create in the service of the nation,” said Reliance Jio Infocomm spokesperson.

The counsel argued Trai allowed voice calls on payment of a meagre amount of Rs 1,658 crore, a figure determined in 2001 and rejected by the SC in its 2G spectrum judgment.

According to the petition, a committee of the Department of Telecom (DoT) had rejected the proposal for allowing voice telephony to Reliance several times, but in the end this committee was disbanded and a new one under the chairmanship of the secretary (telecom), who was due to superannuate two months later (in March 2013), was formed. He was later rewarded with the post of chairman, National Technical Research Organisation, according to Bhushan.

Bhushan also relied on a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, which estimated a huge “undue favour” to Reliance.  “From the sequence of events narrated, it is evident that it was a well-planned strategic move by RIL in which initially Trai, and later the DoT officers and the telecom minister conspired to cheat the government for providing undue favour to a private party,” he said.

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