SC hauls up government, four telecom service providers

New Delhi, Sep 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court Tuesday slapped a cost of Rs.1 lakh each on the central government and four telecom service providers for failing to respond to an AUTSPI plea.

The petition by the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUTSPI) sought imposition of charges on the excess spectrum granted to these firms free.

Granting the plea for more time to file their response by Additional Solicitor General A.S. Chandhiok appearing for the central government and senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan imposed the cost.

Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and Aircel are the four telecom service providers.

The court also recorded that senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi "vehemently" opposed the plea for more time by the government and the service providers.

Rohtagi, who appeared for AUTSPI, has sought the government should levy and recover the charges from these service providers who were allocated additional spectrum over and above that they got bundled with the licence.

Taking exception to the government and the four telecom service providers not filing their response after being given time earlier, the court said, "Though unusual, we accept the request made on behalf of the respondents and allow two weeks' time to them to file counter affidavits subject to the condition of their depositing Rs.1 lakh each with the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee."

The court said: "The replies shall be considered if the same are accompanied with the receipt showing deposit of the amount with the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee."

In the course of the hearing, Justice Singhvi said, "If allegations are right, then it is a serious matter. You have given additional spectrum free of cost. It is not a charity. You are taking spectrum from armed forces in the name of developing the telecom sector and providing services to common man in distant areas."

"It is a natural resource...even the constitution bench said that in the allocation of natural resource you have to consistently follow steps which meet constitutional ethos," the court said.

The court said facts remain that some licencees got excess spectrum free of cost.

Having pulled up the central government, the court gave it and the four telecom service providers two weeks to file their responses.

Directing the listing of the matter Sep 30, the court gave AUTSPI a week's time to file further affidavit.

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