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HC lifts stay on licence for fourth cell operator

Our Legal Correspondent

CHENNAI, JULY 31

THE Madras High Court on Tuesday vacated the interim stay ordered by it against grant of licence to the fourth cellular operator for mobile cellular service in the country.

The First Bench comprising Chief Justice N.K. Jain and Mr Justice P. Thangavel said in its order that the Government was free to go ahead with the process of issuing the licence to the successful bidder for the fourth cellular operator. This will be subj ect to the result of the main petition, which has been posted for hearing on September 10.

The High Court had in its order dated July 18, 2001 on a writ petition filed by Ms K. Chandra of Chennai, challenging the financial bids submitted to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for grant of licence for the fourth cellular operator, said s tatus quo (as on that date) would be followed until further orders.

The petitioner had contended, among other things, that there were lot of uncertainties in regard to the process and quantum of monetary bids for the grant of licence for the fourth cellular operator. The invitation for bids had been deliberately made and designed to favour the major basic telecom operators, who had not been able to enter the mobile telecom sector as yet, the petitioner alleged.

On behalf of Bharti Cellular Ltd it was contended that they should be declared successful bidders in the financial bids for six out of 17 service areas. But because of the interim order of this Court the licences had not been released to them.

The First Bench, while giving reasons for the order vacating the interim stay, in its one-and-a-half page order, pointed out that the Delhi High Court refused to grant any interim order. Likewise, the Bombay High Court also said the tender process should go on in accordance with law.

On behalf of another petitioner, Mr R. Krishnamurthy, senior counsel, said the Government was allotting the frequency spectrum, i.e., airwaves, a scarce resource, to the fourth cellular licence bidder at very low prices causing substantial loss to the ex chequer without any additional entry fees as per the guidelines issued by the DoT on January 25, 2001, which was nothing but circumventing the main policy. This Court could interfere in this matter.

Mr V.T. Gopalan, Additional Solicitor General, observed that the petitioner had no locus standi and the averment that the frequency spectrum had been given at negligible prices was wrong. Any interference at this stage would not be in public interest.

The Bench said the interim order passed by this Court was based on the status quo order dated July 18, 2001. Therefore, the status quo order dated July 18, 2001 by which the fourth cellular operator was alleged to have been deprived of the licence was va cated, and the Government was free to go ahead with the process. But it would be subject to the result in the main writ petition.

The Bench directed the parties to complete the pleadings and the main writ petition was to be listed on September 10, 2001.

Related links:
Madras HC reserves orders on fourth cellular licence
Continue 4th licence bidding: Bombay HC

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