Regulators

Former TRAI Chairman J.S. Sarma passes away

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NEW DELHI: Senior Indian Administrative Service officer J S Sarma, who was a strong supporter of reforms in the telecom sector, has passed away.  

Sarma also served as chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) from 14 May 2009 to 13 May 2012.

Aged 65, Sarma passed away in Hyderabad on 28 February after a brief ailment.

During his regime, mobile number portability was introduced, allowing customers to switch telecom operators without changing their mobile numbers. The per-second billing plan was also mandated during his tenure.

During Sarma’s time at the helm of TRAI, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 2G licences and directed the regulator to recommend steps to auction the spectrum in the same manner as 3G airwaves were sold in 2010.

A 1971 batch IAS officer from the Andhra Pradesh cadre, Sarma initiated the process to stop telecom operators from activating value-added services such as mobile internet and caller tunes without permission from the consumer.

Although the direction was challenged by operators in court, Sarma’s successor and present Chairman Rahul Khullar implemented the regulation in July 2013 with a provision that entitles customers to refund of money deducted for value-added services provided without their permission.

TRAI’s recommendations on ‘Spectrum Management and Licensing Framework’ in 2010 during Sarma’s tenure formed the basis of the new unified telecom licence regime under which spectrum was separated from permits. They also laid the ground for other telecom liberalisation measures such as spectrum auctions, sharing of airwaves and mergers and acquisitions.

The TRAI’s recommendations for the 2G auction in 2012 drew criticism from the industry as the minimum price recommended by the regulator was a little above the rate companies paid for the 3G spectrum.

But he retired before he could consider any amendments, six months before the auction was held in November 2012, attracting a poor response.

Sarma was made a member of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal in July 2008 and served as the Telecom Secretary before becoming TRAI chairman.

Born in Vijayawada on 4 September 1948, Sarma graduated from Osmania University in 1966. He had an M. Tech degree in Applied Geology (1969) and a Doctorate in Public Enterprises (1982) from the University of Paris.

He served at the centre first between the years 1977 and 1980 in the Defence and Chemicals & Fertilizers Ministries and returned to the centre in June 1997 when he was made Joint Secretary in the Rural Development Ministry till October 2002; Additional Secretary, Department of Personnel and later in the Department of Telecommunications between October 2002 and November 2004; Secretary, Department of Telecommunications and Chairman, Telecom Commission from June, 2005 to July 2006; and Secretary, Department of Fertilizers from July, 2006 to July, 2008.

He also served in Andhra Pradesh in the Districts of Kurnool, Prakasam, Cuddapah, Guntur, and as Collector and District Magistrate, Chittoor. He held the posts of Managing Director of the Oilseeds Growers’ Federation, Commissioner of Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, Commissioner of Land Reforms and Urban Land Ceilings, and Secretary in the Departments of Labour, Education and Planning.

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