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Supreme Court registry junks government plea seeking administrative allocation of spectrum

The Supreme Court registry has rejected a plea by the Union government that sought clarification on whether certain spectrum allocations can be undertaken administratively without holding competitive auctions. Calling it a ‘review’ petition filed in the guise of a ‘clarification’, the registry said in a recent order that the application, in the nature of clarification, in effect seeks review of the 2012 judgment after a lapse of over 11 long years, which is impermissible in law.

In 2012, the apex court had delivered a significant judgment in the 2G spectrum allocation case, saying that the government’s policy of allocating spectrum on a first-come-first-serve basis was illegal as it involved an element of pure chance or accident.

As a result, the top court had set aside 122 2G spectrum licences that were awarded through this policy. The court had categorically stated that in cases of alienation of scarce natural resources like spectrum, it is the burden of the state to ensure that a non-discriminatory method is adopted for distribution and alienation.

Rejecting the plea, the registry said that the government made out no reasonable cause for it to be entertained.

The registry pointed out that the government and several other telecom companies, such as Videocon Telecommunications, Tata Tele and Idea Cellular, had attempted to file a review petition after the 2012 judgment. However, all of them were dismissed by the top court.

“Post-exercise of constitutional remedy against the Supreme Court judgment and withdrawing the review petition does not now entitle the applicant to file the present application, which has no mandate in law,” the registry said.

Earlier this month, the government sought appropriate clarification from the top court to firm up an assignment framework, including different methods of assignment other than auction in suitable cases.

In its plea, the government said that spectrum allocation is undertaken not only for commercial telecommunication services but also for non-commercial use for the discharge of sovereign and public interest functions and administrative allocations of spectrum will be crucial to realise the full potential of telecommunications.

Incidentally, the Telecommunications Bill 2023 includes administrative spectrum allocation for certain government functions, such as defence, railways and police, and for cases in respect of which auctions are not technically or economically preferred or optimal — in the case of captive use, radio backhaul or one-time or sporadic use. NDTV Profit

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