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Lower base prices being mulled for spectrum auction

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New Delhi, Nov 10 : The Department of Telecom’s (DoT) plans to hold the spectrum auction before the fiscal has not been put off and discussions are on to cut the auction prices to make it affordable for telecom companies, according to official sources.

There could be up to a 35 per cent reduction in spectrum auction prices though the matter is still under discussion, the sources said.

“We are trying to hold auction this fiscal before March 31, 2020, and, so far, the decision to hold it in 2019-20 stands,” a DoT source said.

“We are discussing the reduced base prices of the spectrum, and broadly the Minister has already said during the India Mobile Congress that government will review spectrum price for this year’s auction but the quantum is being decided, which can be up to 30-35 per cent less,” he said.

The Telecom Commission at its meeting later this month will consider the matter of spectrum base price reduction, the source added.

The DoT is of the opinion that the present situation of the telecom companies are not congenial for them to bid at the current prices. Indian spectrum prices are the highest in the world.

The DoT had earlier asked The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to look at the possibility of lowering spectrum base prices, which the regulator had turned down.

Apart from 4G spectrum, India is planning its first auction of 5G airwaves this year.

On October 24, the Supreme Court in a long pending dispute over adjusted gross revenues (AGR) ruled in favour of government and said all revenues of the telecom licensee are liable to be computed under AGR and, hence, part of it is to be paid to the government as licence fee. This has added to the existing pressure on the telcos.

This, added to the spectrum fees payable now stands provisionally at Rs 1.3 lakh crore which has to be paid the companies by January 24.

The industry — Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Jio — is already burdened with a Rs 7.5 lakh crore debt due to intense competition and cheap pricing of data and voice services.

Trai has suggested a base price of Rs 492 crore per Mhz for 5G spectrum, which amounts to a very exorbitant price of Rs 50,000 crore for 100 MHz. For 5G services a minimum 100 Mhz is necessary to offer full capacity services to industries and enterprises as 5G is predominantly targeted at industry users.

“We are also in the process of undertaking some reform in the spectrum pricing,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said.

Prasad has also written to the Finance Minister, seeking relief for telcos by pointing out that AGR had shrunk to Rs 1.39 lakh crore in 2018-19 from Rs 1.85 lakh crore in 2016-17, reflecting the sector’s poor health.

There was no auction in 2017-18 and 2018-19. In 2016-17, the Union government raised Rs 65,789 crore through the sale of spectrum. Total spectrum put up for sale then was 2,354.44 MHz across seven bands, but the government managed to auction only 965 MHz, or only 41 per cent of the total airwaves.

In 2018, the telecom regulator recommended the auction of about 8,644 MHz of frequencies across eight signal bands, including 4G airwaves in the 700 Mhz, 800 Mhz, 900 Mhz, 1800 Mhz, 2300 Mhz and 2500 Mhz bands, and a debut for 5G spectrum in the 3.3-3.6 Ghz band, which, at base price, was estimated at Rs 5.6 lakh crore

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Global markets under pressure over fear of coronavirus spread

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Mumbai, Jan 24 : Fears that the outbreak of coronavirus in China may disrupt economic activity and global growth has sent the stock markets tumbling.

Chinese health authorities on Friday said that 830 cases of pneumonia caused by coronavirus were confirmed in 29 provincial-level regions in the country. The pneumonia has so far claimed 25 lives.

A sharp adverse reaction from Asian, US and European markets was witnessed because China is entering one of its busiest travel periods on account of its Lunar New Year holiday. The virus outbreak could hurt demand.

On Thursday, Chinese stock markets logged its biggest slide in eight months. However, Indian markets closed higher as the oil prices plunged significantly. The global oil benchmark, Brent slipped to $62 a barrel as the virus outbreak in China may dent fuel demand.

Meanwhile official sources told IANS that though over 500 Indian students study in Wuhan city’s medical colleges and universities, most of them had left for home for the Chinese New Year holidays.

Deaths due to the virus have revived memories of the SARS epidemic, caused by a coronavirus, which killed nearly 800 people and infected more than 8,000 others across the world in 2002-2003.

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SC stays NCLAT order on RoC plea for changes in Tata-Mistry verdict

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Cyrus Mistry

New Delhi, Jan 24 : In a major development in the Tata Sons-Cyrus Mistry row, the Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal’s (NCLAT) order dismissing the Registrar of Company’s (RoC) plea to modify its verdict on the Tata Sons matter.

Tata Sons had challenged in the apex court the NCLAT’s January 6 order on conversion of Tata Sons from a public to a private company.

Agreeing to hear the Tata Sons’ plea, the apex court on Friday issued a notice to the parties concerned. The three judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde will hear the matter along with the main plea filed by Tata Sons against NCLAT’s verdict.

The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) had on January 6 rejected the plea by the RoC to modify the appellate tribunal’s judgement in the Tata-Mistry case.

The NCLAT had in its December 18 verdict termed the RoC’s decision to allow conversion of Tata Sons from a public to private company as illegal, while the RoC had filed a plea at the appellate tribunal to remove the word “illegal” from its verdict, among other observations.

The two-judge bench headed by NCLAT Chairman Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya had observed that the judgment did not cast any aspersions on the RoC.

Posting the matter for hearing after four weeks, the Supreme Court had, on January 10, stayed the NCLAT order reinstating Cyrus Mistry as Tata Sons Chairman. Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said the NCLAT had granted a prayer not made.

However, Mistry has already made a statement that he is no longer interested in taking up the chairmanship of Tata Sons.

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Swamy warns against Air India sale, wants House panel to vet his note

It has been reliably learnt that the Rajya Sabha member had expressed reservations over privatisation of Air India the meeting of a Parliamentary consultative committee earlier this month.

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Subramanian Swamy

New Delhi, Jan 23: The government’s plan to sell national carrier Air India may face political and legal headwinds with senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy raising the red flag against the decision.

Days before the launch of bidding process by inviting Expressions of Interest (EoI) from potential suitors, Swamy has warned against such move, saying the issue was currently being discussed by a Parliamentary panel.

“Right now, it (Air India disinvestment) is before the consultative committee and I am a member of that. I have been asked to give a note which will be discussed in the next meeting. They can’t go ahead without that,” Swamy told IANS.

“If they do, I will go to court. They know that too,” he cautioned.

A vocal opponent of Air India privatisation, Swamy had earlier suggested to list 49 per cent of Air India shares on stock exchanges while government holds 51 per cent in the carrier as an alternative to selling its entire stake to private companies.

It has been reliably learnt that the Rajya Sabha member had expressed reservations over privatisation of Air India the meeting of a Parliamentary consultative committee earlier this month.

After its failed first attempt, the Modi government has shown great zeal this time to sell Air India. It is set to offer a sweetened deal to potential buyers this time around by removing a large chunk of the debt and liabilities from the airline books.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had earlier said that Air India will be shut down, in case the disinvestment exercise is not successful.

Sources told IANS that the preliminary information memorandum (PIM) inviting EoI has been tentatively scheduled to be unveiled on January 27.

Air India is proposed to be sold along with its subsidiary Air India Express and ground-handling joint venture company Air India Singapore Airport Terminal Services Ltd (AISATS) in which it has 50 per cent stake.

Air India on January 10 came out with tender for engaging aircraft asset management companies for carrying out technical audit of its entire fleet.

A Ministerial panel on Air India chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah on January 7 approved the draft EoI and a share purchase agreement (SPA) for the airline’s disinvestment.

(Nirbhay Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])

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