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BW Businessworld

Who Will Take The Call?

Photo Credit :

current Trai chairman,
Nirpendra Misra, will
retire on 22 March
(Pic byTribhuwan Sharma)

As the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) looks for a new chief, noises to select an ‘independent’ head, who is not from the bureaucracy, are already growing louder within and outside the government.

When the last date for receiving applications ended on 6 March, there were 29 contenders for the post. Of them, 13 were found eligible by the steering committee that met on 9 March, and 16 were rejected. Among the eligible 13, seven were technocrats and six were from the IAS (Indian Administrative Service). The final shortlist only features 10 names.

The seven technocrats who may be examined by the screening committee before they are sent to the DoPT are: Surendra Pal, associate and programme director, ISRO Satellite Centre; Pulapaka Venkata Ramdas, vice-president, technology-BPO services, HCL; Ravinder Kaur Batra, empanelled counsel of the Central government for 15 years; Sukhbir Singh, member, Electrical Railway Board; Sahib Dayal Saxena, retired director (finance), BSNL; G.S. Grover, retired member, Telecom Commission; K. Sridhara, member, Telecom Commission. The last non-bureaucrat to head Trai was M.S. Verma, a career banker, who took charge in March 2000 (see ‘The Contenders’).

“Ten names would be sent to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), of which six will be from the IAS,” a source in the screening committee says. DoT Secretary, Siddhartha Behura, who was considered a hot favourite, went out of contention in the final screening.

The selection of a new chairman assumes significance with the Trai Amendment Bill (2008) pending before the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Lok Sabha, which is to discuss an amendment to Section 4 of the Trai Act 2000 relating to the qualifications required for the post of chairman and members. The Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2008.

One critical clause that DoT wants to insert in the Act through an amendment is to expand the eligibility criteria to include those senior bureaucrats who have left government services.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee met on 9 February to discuss the proposed amendments. But DoT had issued an advertisement to fill the post of chairman four days earlier, on 5 February. “Trai cannot function without a chairman; the post will fall vacant on 22 March,” said a senior DoT official, justifying the ad.

Prashant Singhal, partner at Ernst & Young, feels that more than any individual, it is the government’s commitment to have an independent person head Trai that needs to be reflected in the appointment. “Satyam is a perfect example,” Singhal says. “The government did identify non-bureaucrats for the critical operation and regula- tion of a company. They are certainly capable of finding one for Trai.”

Meanwhile, the telecom and broadcasting watchdog is at another critical stage — market-related issues such as interconnect pricing will have to be addressed by Trai soon.

(Businessworld Issue Dated 17-23 March 2009)