Govt plans telecom levy, Pawar quits EGoM

The union cabinet is likely to discuss the contentious issue of one-time spectrum charge on Tuedsay that Department of Telecom has proposed to levy on incumbent telecom operators for the remaining period of their licence. This move is being seen as the government trying to generate extra revenue from spectrum sale, after the allegations that it has sold this natural resource rather cheaply in the past.

'A approval of the cabinet is being sought for levy of one-time spectrum charge on the existing spectrum holdings of the telecom service providers at the auction determined price,' sources in the telecom department said.

The telecom department is of the view that this will enable a level-playing field among all service providers and will 'be in the interest of proper conduct of the telecom services'.

The telecom department has proposed four options to charge spectrum held by existing operators, which include charging all spectrum held by them or charging beyond 4.4 megahertz spectrum that was allocated to players with their licences or charging beyond the contracted spectrum of 6.2 megahertz. One option suggests no one-time charge for current spectrum.

The operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular hold more than 6.2 megahertz spectrum in some circles and the companies may be hit if this proposal is cleared by the cabinet.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had recommended that additional spectrum held by operators above 6.2 megahertz limit should be charged.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the agriculture minister Sharad Pawar recused himself from heading the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on telecom, three days after he replaced Pranab Mukherjee in the job.

Fearing attempts to drag him into controversies, Pawar, who was to chair the first meeting of the reconstituted EGoM on MOnday, first postponed the meeting and then wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recalling how attempts were made to drag him in the controversy surrounding the allocation of 2G spectrum and that it would be appropriate for him to recuse himself from heading the EGoM.

The Prime Minister has agreed to 'relieve me from the responsibility of chairman of EGoM on vacation of spectrum and auction of 3G spectrum and to look into grant of license and allocation of spectrum in 2G band in 22 service areas,' he said in a statement.
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