India government withdraws telecom case review petition

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Government earlier sought review on aspects of Supreme Court’s licence cancellation order.The Indian government Tuesday unexpectedly decided to withdraw its petition in the Supreme Court seeking to review certain aspects of the court’s earlier ruling that ordered cancellation of 122 telecommunication licenses, citing flaws in the allotment process.

The review petition will be withdrawn as “as it has been admitted (by the court) only on limited non-telecom related grounds and hence would serve no purpose as far as telecom is concerned,” R. Chandrashekhar, secretary at the department of telecommunications, told Dow Jones Newswires. He didn’t elaborate.
The government’s plea was primarily related to the applicability of the “first-come, first-served” policy that New Delhi followed in 2008 to allot telecom licenses and bandwidth. The apex court, in its Feb. 2 judgment, called the policy “arbitrary and unconstitutional,” and ordered the cancellation of the licenses given to several companies for providing mobile-phone services.
It also directed the government to hold a fresh bandwidth auction and follow the auction route for allotment of state-controlled resources.
The government, however, wasn’t seeking a review of the license cancellations, but had sought a clarification on an appropriate way to allocate natural resources, including mines. It said the court’s order had “erred” in calling the “first-come, first-served” process illegal and was “beyond the jurisdiction of courts.”
The court has earlier rejected separate petitions by some affected operators to review the ruling on cancellation of licenses.
Separately, Prashant Bhushan–the complainant in the case relating to irregularities in the license allotment–said he had been informed of the government’s latest decision.
Another official, who asked not to be named, said a government counsel will appear before the court Thursday–the scheduled day for the hearing of the plea–and tell the court the reasons for withdrawing the petition.
The withdrawal of the review petition comes even as the government is preparing to hold auctions to reallot the licenses by an Aug. 31 deadline set by the court.
The order has put in jeopardy the billions of dollars that companies like Telenor ASA of Norway, Russia’s AFK Sistema and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo Inc. have invested in India. They had bought stakes in Indian companies after their local partners got licenses.