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Date:16/04/12

India top court mulls reviewing parts of telco licence cancellation order

The Supreme Court of India said Friday it will consider reviewing some points raised in its Feb. 2 order cancelling 122 telecommunication licenses given in 2008, but maintained that affected companies would have to surrender their permits four months from the ruling.

A panel of Justices G.S. Singhvi and K.S. Radhakrishnan was hearing a plea by the government asking it to review its judgment on the suitability of the first-come, first-served policy that New Delhi followed in 2008 to allot telecom licenses. The court, on Feb. 2, called the policy "arbitrary and unconstitutional."

The government said that the court "erred" in calling the process illegal and that the matter was "beyond the jurisdiction of courts" as it interfered with the government's policy-making functions.

Friday, the court asked the government to justify its views and issued notices to lawyer Prashant Bhushan and lawmaker Subramanian Swamy to present their opinion on the petition.
Bhushan and Swamy were the petitioners on whose complaints the top court ordered to cancel the licenses. The court will next hear the case May 1.

The government, however, isn't seeking a review of the license cancellation order, thus offering no relief to foreign companies such as Norway's Telenor ASA, Russia's AFK Sistema and Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc., which have invested billions of dollars in India. They had bought stakes in Indian companies after their local partners got licenses.

Telenor and Sistema--both partially owned and backed by their respective governments--have taken up the issue at the diplomatic level and also threatened to sue India under bilateral laws.
As part of the Feb. 2 order, the Supreme Court had also directed the government to allot state assets through auctions.

Friday, a counsel for the government told the court that India is seeking clarification on an "appropriate way to dispose natural resources, including mines."

Currently, India allots mining leases for minerals, metals and coal without auctions. However, oil and gas blocks are allotted through a widely-publicized auction in which both domestic and overseas companies can take part.

The telecom department, in a separate petition, has sought clarification on certain points of the order, including the timeline for the auction of bandwidth to be surrendered by the affected companies. The department has said that it will be able to complete auctions only by Jan. 28, 2013, and allocate bandwidth by March 8, 2013.

The government, through President Pratibha Patil, has also sought an opinion from the apex court on the consequences of its order cancelling the licenses.




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