“Our Intention Is Not To Have Another Bureaucracy”

Justice SS Sodhi, chairman, TRAIHaving come
into force on 25 January 1997, the Telecom Regulatory Authority
of India (TRAI) should be celebrating its first anniversary, this
month. Established to regulate the telecommunication services and
the related matters, TRAI has successfully resolved certain
crucial issues. Recently, it has brought out a consultative paper
for restructuring telecom tariff. But, still the image of TRAI as
an effective and efficient regulator has largely remained
debatable. TRAI chairman Justice SS Sodhi discloses his
game plan to Puneet Kumar. Excerpts:

TRAI was formed to interact with the
communications industry from a closer quarter. Have you been able
to meet that target?

Our intention is not to have a large
bureaucracy. At TRAI, we wish to raise everything in an open and
transparent manner, after full consultation. Because, we believe
that the best safeguard against stumbling into error is to
proceed open. We have said, any industry representative can come
and share problems with us. But if the industry itself does not
want to come forward, then how can we help!

At TRAI, we wish to
raise everything in an open and transparent manner, after
full consultation.

What are the issues that you think need
immediate redressal?

I think the issue of interconnection and that
of fixing a time frame to grant clearances to enable private
operators to start functioning are the major issues that need to
be resolved immediately. In fact, shortly, we will be organizing
a joint sitting of DoT and private service providers to place
their respective demands. I think this will remove a lot of areas
of contention.

TRAI has sought public participation in
the tariff restructuring. What exactly prompted you to begin the
whole exercise?

It was long time ago that the telecom tariff
was looked upon. And today when telecom is being proved as one of
the major factors influencing the economic growth of the country,
it has become essential to make telecom tariff promotional.

Justice SS Sodhi, chairman, TRAI When will you be able to announce the final tariffs?

We have organized open consultative sessions in
almost all the major cities in the country where in we have asked
the industry people to send in their comments by 23 December.
These suggestions will be incorporated in the second consultative
paper which will again be floated in the industry for open
discussions before giving it a final shape by the middle of this
year.

While the industry has hardly settled
with new rules of the game as per the licence conditions,
don’t you think TRAI’s decision to restructure the
telecom tariff is a bit hurried one?

TRAI is here to help in the expansion of
telecom sector. To ensure its growth, to provide for a very
robust and viable telecom sector, and not to kill it. We have a
teledensity of 1.6. With this teledensity, should we continue for
another three or more years without taking any step to ensure
that it increases? We have already wasted a lot of time. Now it
is time to expand the sector as quickly as possible.

DoT seems to be in a habit of rushing to
the High Court for every decision you take. Are you planning any
way out?

These are teething problems and can be sorted
out. And we do not mind DoT going to the court either. For, the
court will take its own course of action. However, what worries
us about DoT going to the High Court is that it adversely affects
the investor’s confidence.

The issue of interconnection
and fixing a time frame to grant clearances to enable
private operators to start functioning are the major
issues that need to be resolved immediately.

World-over, keeping the investor’s
confidence in mind that regulatory bodies like TRAI have been set
up. But when the dominant operator questions the jurisdiction,
power, and functions of TRAI, our perception is that it can have
an adverse effect on the investor’s confidence. This is a
serious issue which affects the effectiveness of such a body.
Government should take a policy decision that whether such things
should be done.

We do not mind DoT going to
the court either. However, what worries us about DoT
going to the High Court is that it adversely affects the
investor’s confidence.

TRAI has asked telecom companies to
submit their performance report. What exactly is the motive
behind?

Consumers, today, are not a satisfied lot in
our kind of set-up. And our intention is to see how best consumer
can be benefitted. Therefore, to address their problems, this
whole exercise is planned. For example, how many complaints does
an operator receive and how many of them are being sorted out.
So, at first place, we will have an idea about the quality of
operator’s services and second how efficient one is in
clearing the problems. 

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