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August 25, 1999
Law experts slam new telecom policyLaw experts have described the new telecom policy as squandering of public funds.
The policy replaced the licence-fee regime with a revenue sharing arrangement and allowed a six-month waiver on payment of fees.
The experts were talking at a seminar on 'Telecom Policy 99: Who stands to gain?'. The event was organised by the Jan Hastakshep, a New Delhi based forum for citizens' intervention.
She was critical of the manner in which the A B Vajpayee government went whole-hog to change the policy in ''favour of private telecom operators'' and unilaterally amended the terms and conditions of the agreement under what it is being called a ''bail-out package'' for operators.
Narrating the chronology of the events leading to announcing of the new telecom policy, she said it was brought forth by a caretaker government on July 7 when it had already lost the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on April 17.
Lambasting the institution of attorney-general, she said instead of maintaining impartiality while giving his legal opinion, the incumbent reversed his earlier stand of opposing the change in the telecom policy and defying the legal sanctity of his office, he ''openly held a meeting with the private operators at his residence''.
Criticising the official suggestions that the new policy was meant to retain the faith of foreign investors in the telecom sector, Jaising said ''Foreign interests have conspired to hijack the Indian economy and polity.''
Another senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan cited the case of signing a power project with Enron, a USA multinational by the BJP that earlier opposed it.
Under the agreement by the BJP government, the country had agreed to purchase power at the rate of Rs 4.90 per unit while NTPC, an Indian public sector company, was ready to supply power at Rs 1.50 per unit.
The legal experts were peeved at the government's restriction on MTNL, a public sector telecom company, from entering into any competition with the private operators for two years and said it was a clear indication that the caretaker government which was not supposed to take any policy decision, was out to help operators.
Dr N Bhattacharya, an economist, decried as ''double standard'' the government suggestion that if private telecom operators are not provided with a bail-out package, they would go sick and would not be able to return loans amounting to Rs 100 billion raised from financial institutions.
''While the public sector undertaking incurs losses, all the chambers of commerce demand its privatisation or dissolution. Why this yardstick should not apply to the private telecom operators,'' he argued.
A retired high court judge, R B Mehrotra, the president of the Delhi People's Union for Civil Liberties, who presided over the seminar, while criticising the new telecom policy, said the Vajpayee government had no right to take policy decisions after it lost the confidence of the house.
All this ''smacks of fascist tendencies out to thwart the democratic set-up and the rule of law''. He advised the press and the public at large not to refrain from criticising the court verdicts that struck at the root of Indian democracy and favoured some vested interests.
PUCL General Secretary Dr Anoop Saraya demanded issuing of a white paper on the ''telecom scam'' and institution of an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the whole telecom episode.
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