Centre reverses stance, files review petition in SC over 2G verdict

NEW DELHI: Even as it sought more time for auction of the 122 cancelled 2G licences and was contemplating filing a Presidential reference, the Government did a turn-around and filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict cancelling the licences, contending that the court cannot review the merits of a policy decision made by the executive.

The Department of Telecommunication also defended the first-come-first-served policy and submitted that the Court’s recommendation for auction in case of distribution of natural resources went against the principles of the Constitution. The Court’s methodology of a single method for distribution of all natural resources, including spectrum, through the "auction" route was contrary to the principle of separation of powers embodied in the Constitution, it was contended.

"The finding in the judgment that the state is duty bound to conduct a public auction whenever it distributes natural resources, such that said resources always go to the highest bidder, is contrary to the principle in the Constitution and various legislations which prescribe various alternative method of distributing natural resources, including the policy of first-come-first served," the plea said.

Earlier on 1 March, the Telecom Ministry sought clarifications and directions from the Supreme Court on the timing to e-auction 2G licences. Ministry sources said it was not possible to complete this process within four months as directed by the Court and the Centre may need up to 400 days from the date of the judgment.

Several petitions were filed against the judgment delivered on 2 February by a bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly (who is since retired).

Two telecom companies, Sistema Shyam TeleServices Limited (SSTL) and Uninor, approached the Supreme Court seeking review of the verdict cancelling 2G licences.

Former telecom minister A Raja who was indicted in the verdict also filed for review, saying the order violated the "principles of natural justice" and "judicial norms" and that he was "condemned" without being heard.

The government’s petition filed under Article 137 of the Constitution contended that the Supreme Court verdict "is liable to be reviewed since there are errors which are apparent on the face of the record."

The petition said: "The court would further have had to consider that as the urban market is already captured by existing telecom providers, there is a need to induct new telecom service providers who would provide service in semi-urban and rural areas. The Court failed to appreciate that in order to facilitate teledensity it was necessary to offer at competitive rates thereby allowing millions of rural and semi urban consumers to gain access to telecom services."

"The impugned judgment is, with the greatest respect, internally contradictory as it holds the policy was flawed because it did not adhere to the principles of equality, while acknowledging that the policy was based on the twin principles of level playing field between different players, as well as including the need to promote affordability and increase penetration of wireless services in semi-urban and rural areas, both of which promote the principle of equality," the petition said.

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