View: SC’s ruling on telecom companies brings transparency, ends ad-hocism

By Madhavan Narayanan


It is mostly believed that India ended the ‘licence-permit Raj’ below which the way forward for companies hung by the coat-tails of presidency ministers and accompanying bureaucrats. But habits die arduous.

What we now have seen because the monsoon of that momentous yr is that allocations, approvals and negotiated approaches to coping with the self similar authorities — be it on fuel costs from oil exploration, allocation of 2G spectrum, or provision of coal mines for energy technology — have successfully changed the outdated Raj as a regime of discretionary powers that scent of indiscretion.

On the opposite hand, one other set of variables has modified in a fashion that ought to make the companies that thrived within the earlier period, and appeared to do properly within the later years, sit up and take observe. The arrival of coalition politics, public curiosity litigation (PIL) and, more and more, lively establishments together with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Right to Information (RTI) workplaces have collectively positioned companies in alandscape of elevated accountability and scrutiny.

The Supreme Court’s newest offended observations on Friday, and its quick-fix diktat on struggling telecom corporations to pay up the Rs 1,47,000 crore dues they owe to GoI below its order issued final October on adjusted gross income (AGR), should be seen on this mild.

The judiciary is at all times ruled by the letter of the legislation and proof, not by the plaintive notes of despair or pleadings for social good that enterprise lobbyists typically are good at.

It is obvious as day that corporations resembling Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Teleservices, that are groaning below the burden of previous debt, eyeing new spectrum prices below a 5G regime and dealing with competitors from Reliance Jio, are in dire want of life assist.

But judges often don’t act on contextual pressures, particularly so in a context the place watchdog establishments (media, CAG or civil society teams) are ready to mud up accusations of crony capitalism or undue favours.

What is critical within the Supreme Court’s observations is that the judiciary has even steamrollered the division of telecom’s (DoT) personal government order to override the court docket’s ruling to recuperate dues by asking it to withdraw its order. The judges saying that the businesses ‘haven’t paid something since 20 years by means of AGR dues’ is clearly an invocation of a precept of pure justice or administrative propriety.

But extra essential is the implication that the time could also be over for industries making an attempt to affect authorities businesses for what may seem like an out-of-court settlement. What is at stake are points associated to public coverage and transparency in governance. This implies that makes an attempt to repair trade issues must keep away from ad-hocism based mostly on industrialists assembly ministers.

Instead, they should make their options ‘judiciary-proof’. The apex court docket had earlier mentioned that each one AGR-related dues should be paid by January 23, 2020. Though relief-seekers included State-run Oil India and RailTel, the straightforward reality is that in India’s lingering legacy of a combined financial system, personal sector bullets are sometimes fired from public sector shoulders.

It is time for India’s companies, on the whole, and telcos, specifically, to grasp that it’s tough to recreation the federal government, and harder to recreation the judiciary. Unlike intelligent politicians who might wriggle out by amending insurance policies, judges often comply with or set precedents — and, in every occasion, have the burden of substantiating their verdicts.

Things have develop into so tough in post-reforms India that some oldfashioned lobbying will probably be seen in much less enchanting mild as manipulation by public officers or establishments. A fantastic line divides lobbying from manipulation. Erring on the facet of security whereas being artistic in dealing with deadlocks could also be one of the best ways out for corporations in a jinx.

This, in fact, doesn’t imply that telcos haven’t any case for aid. Both the aggressive panorama and the promise supplied by digital industries are such that each courts and policymakers should be artistic companions. However, this needs to be finished throughout the 4 partitions of accountability, transparency, readability and cooperation. Rather than ad-hoc measures, resembling an government order that casts a shadow on the exchequer, GoI can be greatest positioned to revisit its insurance policies.

It wants to speak or hearken to Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) if wanted, and usher in a brand new framework in which there’s a win-win regime for all involved. An apologetic clarification supplied to the Supreme Court, with a promise for Telecom 4.0 (or is it 5.0?) might be what the physician ordered for the telcos.

Views expressed are writer’s personal.



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