‘Municipalities, state governments should not say cellphone towers are unsafe’

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER Investments slowed down because of uncertainty and it happens a lot with telecom companies. What is your take on the issue? md:The telecom sector saw a much different issue from the tax issue. But to me frankly, what happened in the telecom sector with the controversy and other issues with regards to the budget and finances, I think they pale in comparison to what I hear from investors. Largely, I think the biggest issue that investors face in India is the mood and they feel that it has gotten hostile. The debate on policy has gotten a little lopsided. So, I feel we need to give people confidence in terms of consistency of policies. Even the debate with regard to framing a policy will be done keeping in mind all issues. From anyone I have spoken to regarding reforms that we want to undertake to encourage investment, the biggest question that people ask is on the macro issues. So when things blow out of proportion, how do we bring it back to setting the agenda again? That's where the government finds it most difficult. The mood of investment, the climate for attracting investments, to me, seems the biggest issue and how do you improve that? The government can only say we are going to push our policies through, implement reforms.

SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: Do you feel CAG is a call for policymakers because somewhere, something has gone wrong?

In telecom, I can tell you that when I got into this ministry in 2011 and prior to that as an MP just reading about this issue, I tended to say that as a layperson, maybe there is an issue and something went wrong. In the end, what we as governments face a difficult challenge with is, in each of our policies, how do you really balance revenue maximisation and what else you want to achieve. What happened with the CAG issue was that while they have a right to say that 'we think spectrum should have been auctioned', we also have a right to say we don't think it should have been auctioned. We have a right to say that spectrum should be bundled with a licence, provided in some way there is a framework that allows the operator to pass that benefit onto the consumer, which in some ways was happening. But what tended to happen with the CAG report, at least the 2G report, was that because you haven't auctioned it and there may have been a loss to the exchequer in terms of absolute figures and not in terms of the long-term benefit to the nation, it got two issues. One was spectrum allocation and second was maybe a violation of the first-come-first-serve policy. We jumbled it up in our public discourse I think and as a result, the policy of not auctioning went to the courts and it was mandated that you have to auction it. To me, that's a problem not just in the 2G case but in governance in general, which is any authority, whether it's CAG or CBI or even civil society, should look at policies being implemented wrongly.

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