Column : Time to refarm telecom governance
Sound policies flow from sound institutions. The government should facilitate, not micro-manage
There is a fond belief that by throwing ever more resources into the bottomless pit of telecom governance, something of value may eventually be extracted. The ongoing spectacle around spectrum refarming is just the latest example. Trai stirred the pot to cook a mish-mash, and the telecom commission made a bigger hash, if such a feat was at all possible. The ball then gets booted to the eGoM's court, which in turn scooped it to the Union Cabinet. If you choose to get your root canal procedure performed by the health minister instead of a dental surgeon, the outcome may be final, but may be less than satisfying. We can only hope the superior political instincts of the members of the Cabinet will help them sense that the country is playing with fire, even if the issue by itself is too technical, and avert a mis-step for the country. But this episode only underscores what has been obvious for over a decade, that it is not spectrum, but our telecom governance framework that needs refarming.
This piece is not about spectrum refarming. But make no mistake, such a proposal of uprooting gigantic telecom networks will find no precedent anywhere in the world. It would eclipse even the experiments of Muhammad bin Tughluq 700 years ago. It is intellectually and morally bankrupt. A license is defined by its frequency band. The assigned frequency is integral to the license, just as a toffee is integral to its wrapper. If you swallow the toffee and return the wrapper, whom are you fooling? Your own country-folk? There is the brahma-astra clause that the government has the right to change any license term at any time. Rights exist to do right, not to do wrong! If media reports are to be believed, even the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission has said in another context—and it needed to be said—that even if the license terms are indeed open to such a wide interpretation, those terms must not be invoked, and going forward such license terms should be rewritten to eliminate the scope of misplaced interventions. The same gentleman had earlier aptly likened the imaginative and amusing conceptions of a level playing field advanced to justify similar proposals to a Procrustean Bed. Procrustes, if you check Wikipedia, was a bandit in ancient Greece who waylaid passers-by and forced them upon a bed and either stretched them or chopped them to exactly the length of the bed, until they died screaming. Ever since, the Procrustean Bed is a byword for mindless arbitrariness and destruction.
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