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Don't allow civil servants to determine the pace of change, ministers must look at the bigger picture.
While Central ministers are, possibly too late in the game, trying to get things going, they find they are being hobbled by the bureaucracy. In such a situation, ministers have no option but to seize the initiative and order their officials to do what they say. And, if the order is a reasoned one, there doesn't seem to be any danger of the usual CBI/CVC/CAG probe. Telecom is a good recent example. Trai had come up with a fairly unreasonable base price of Rs 18,000 crore for a pan-India spectrum slot of 5 MHz in the 1800 MHz bandwidth. The number looked so absurdly high that a group of ministers reduced this to Rs 14,000 crore last November and then to Rs 12,000 crore last March — the figure was still too high and the auctions were a flop. But that is missing the point, which is that there was no CBI/CVC reaction to this.
Since the reserve price needed further lowering, the matter was referred back to Trai which, under a new chairman, reduced it further to Rs 7,500 crore. While this dramatically improves the chances of a successful auction and can help the industry get back on track, a nine-member committee of bureaucrats within the telecom ministry have opposed Trai's recommendations. This is where the political class needs to take a stance, look at the larger picture in terms of what it will do for the industry and tell the bureaucracy to clear it. In any case, since it's an auction, where is the question of favouring anyone?
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