Govt’s plea in SC not for changing 2012 judgement on spectrum auction

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Auction will be the only mechanism for giving out spectrum for telecom services, a senior official said, adding that for some defined cases including satellite communications, sovereign functions or for armed forces, it will be given through administrative allocation.

“Spectrum for mobile services will continue to be given through the auction process. In fact, currently, one auction for 4G and 5G spectrum is currently ongoing,” the person said, asking not to be named.

The official clarified that the government had approached the Supreme Court not to seek a change in the 2012 judgement of the apex court, but as a precaution before introducing the Telecommunications Act 2023, considering multiple lawsuits.

“The matter in Supreme Court is basically a miscellaneous application for clarification on the above point, considering the multiple litigations. It was filed in the Supreme Court following the due process before introducing the Telecom Bill in parliament. The application doesn’t ask for changing the Supreme Court judgement,” the official added.

On Monday, the government sought an urgent hearing from the bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud after having filed the application with the court in December 2023. The application seeks clarification from the court on whether the government could allocate airwaves administratively through a legal process in cases of sovereign functional requirements, in public interest or in cases where auction cannot be preferred due to technical or economic factors.

“As enacted in the new telecom law, only a very limited and narrowly defined cases including spectrum for walkie-talkie for police organizations, radar for weather forecasting, radar and communication for ships, communication for space and satellite applications, communication and radar for Army, Air Force and Navy and PSU like BSNL will be given on administrative basis. Of the total allocations, these amount to minuscule (amounts),” the official added.

Satellite Spectrum Allocation

The plea for clarification comes years after the Supreme Court in 2012 said that competitive auctions will be route taken for distribution of natural resources owned by the public. A Presidential reference by the central government also followed the judgement.

The new telecom law enacted last year has cleared the way for allocation of satellite broadband spectrum without the need for auctioning it. Satellite spectrum in particular is crucial, since a number of large players have plans to launch satellite services in India.

Key among them are Bharti Group-backed Eutelsat OneWeb, Reliance’s Jio Satellite Communications, Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. Some including L&T, Tata Group, Nasscom, besides Bharti Group, Starlink and Amazon, have backed the non-auction route, while others including Reliance and Vodafone Idea have opposed direct allocation.

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Pooja Gupta

CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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CA Pooja Gupta (CA, ISA, having 15 years of experience. Educator and Digital Creator

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