Andimuthu Raja, while retaining charge of the communications and information technology ministry, has rekindled hopes that the contentious listing of state-owned telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) would be a priority. He also said his department would push for an extension of tax sops for at least another two years.
Addressing the media after taking charge of his ministry today, Raja said: “We wanted to list the company. I have told the BSNL management to have a discussion with the trade unions and other stakeholders to arrive at a consensus.”
“I will review the entire business modality of BSNL and expansion routes also,” he added. However, he ruled out the merger of state-owned telecom units — BSNL and MTNL — saying: “Identical factors are not there legally for BSNL-MTNL merger.” He also ruled out the possibility of merging BSNL with telecom equipment manufacturer, ITI, but said that the government was in talks with various players for investment in the company.
As he took charge of his second tenure of the ministry along with newly-appointed ministers of state, Sachin Pilot and Gurudas Kamat, Raja highlighted that the work started in his previous tenure would be completed or would continue in this new tenure. Commenting on the much-awaited auction of third-generation spectrum, Raja assured that the process would be completed by the end of the year.
He said: “The matter has been referred to the Group of Ministers (GoM). I do not know whether the GoM is in existence or not. If it is not, then the matter might be referred to the CCEA. After the clearance, I want the auction to be completed in two months.”
The auction has already been deferred twice and was expected to be completed within the last year. The matter was delayed indefinitely after inter-ministerial disputes on the reserve prices and the number of blocks to be auctioned.
Outlining the user-friendly steps taken in his previous stint as telecom minister, Raja said mobile number portability, which allows users to switch operators without changing numbers, will begin in October. Also he said that the telecom tariffs could see a decline in the near future with the entry of new operators in the telecom sector. He said, “In the telecom side we brought about healthy competition, more operators were permitted as per the Trai recommendations and I do believe that once the operators start their operations, the tariff will drastically come down and the telecommunication facilities will be available for the person who is really in the lowest rung of the social order.”
On the information technology (IT) sector, Raja said that he would push for an extension of the sops under Sections 10(A) and 10(B) of the of the Software Technology Parks of India (Act) for at least another two years. The sops, which were due to lapse in the current financial year, have already been extended by one year.
Raja also noted that the semi-conductor policy has yielded bumper results for the government in its preliminary stage. “The semi-conductor policy that was announced by the government is going to attract more investment in the sector.”
Meanwhile, aiming at paperless governance in the next five years, Raja stressed on the importance of the national e-governance programme and its implementation by the state governments. He also pointed out the shortcomings of the hardware manufacturing sector in the country, while saying, “Hardware manufacturing in India is lagging behind we didn’t have any self-reliance. This tenure I hope we have to ensure that manufacturing hubs in connected areas will be promoted.”