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DoT still to decide on 3G auction; finance ministry says way clear
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With differences between the Union law and finance ministries now over on the thorny issue of auctions for 3G spectrum, it is now for the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to decide on the schedule.

<img style="float: left; margin: 0 10px 0 0;" src="http://www.business-standard.com/newsimgfiles/2010/february/17022010/021710_20.jpg" />However, while its top officials met to discuss the next course of action and whether the auctions can be done before this financial year concludes on March 31, it appears DoT still needs time.

A Raja, the minister, continued to say he is still waiting for advice from the finance and law ministries. And, a senior official who attended the internal meeting said it would take a few days more for a final decision.

This, when Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar and Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla both said it was now for DoT to move.

Chandrasekhar was also directly chairing the high-level committee to monitor vacation of spectrum by the defence forces. Asked whether there was a pressing need to complete the auction by March 31, he said: "I don't think it particularly matters if it happens this year or the next year...they (DoT and the finance ministry) will take the decision, based on how the revenue can be maximised."

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had factored in expected revenue of Rs 35,000 crore in the current year’s Budget from the 3G auction. The hope is to use the proceeds to partly cut the huge fiscal deficit, estimated to touch 6.8 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009-10.

The auction was scheduled for January 14 and then got delayed because of unavailability of enough spectrum and differences over the number of slots to be auctioned. DoT has currently enough spectrum to auction two slots. The third slot would be available by September and the fourth by 2013, in each of the 23 telecom circles.

The Finance ministry had cleared the decks for the auction before the end of this financial year, by assuring the law ministry that it would ensure all successful bidders the availability of spectrum by September 1, instead of selectively releasing spectrum depending on availability. The law ministry had said auctioning slots without the spectrum in hand could cause legal problems. Successful bidders, it had warned, could demand compensation on investments they make to roll out service if they do not receive spectrum on time.

The law ministry has since also accepted the finance ministry’s suggestion of deleting a clause in the draft agreement that provided for a full refund, plus interest, if spectrum was not allotted to successful bidders by December 31.

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