Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has been appointed the new head of the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on telecom spectrum vacation and auction-related issues.
The move comes a day after former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was at the helm of the crucial EGoM, filed his nomination for the presidential elections after resigning from the Cabinet.
The first meeting with Pawar as the head of the EGoM will take place on Monday at 4 pm to decide on the contentious reserve price for the coming second generation (2G) spectrum auction, slated to be completed by August 31 following a Supreme Court directive. A senior official from the department of telecommunications (DoT) confirmed the development.
Pawar is already a member of the EGoM, as are home minister P Chidambaram and defence minister A K Antony, whose names were also doing the rounds for the top slot.
According to sources, Pawar is expected to have an informal meeting with Mukherjee tomorrow morning to get updated on the issues being dealt by the EGoM. The ministerial panel, which met only once on the telecom issue, could not meet on June 21 as proposed for the second meeting, as Mukherjee decided to skip.
Pawar faces a tough decision on the 2G auction base price, amid a strong opposition from telecom operators against those proposed. The Telecom Regulatory Association of India (Trai) has recommended a base price of Rs 3,622 crore for 1 MHz of spectrum, while a panel set up by DoT suggested the base price be fixed at Rs 4,265 crore.
The Telecom Commission, which deliberated twice on the regulator’s recommendation, passed the issue on to the EGoM. It has also asked the regulator to relook at the impact of the base price on operators rates. The report will be presented to the EGoM on Monday.
It is learnt Trai has now calculated an impact of a maximum 14 paise per minute on rates because of the new reserve price. Telecom operators say such a move would lead to a huge increase in rates from 26 paise to 90 paise a minute on consumers and kill the industry.