Reliance Telecom Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the private telecom service providers (TSP) were an integral part of the telecom system and need not be looked upon as some kind of profit mongers.
"To call us profit mongers is unfair. We are a part of service provider utility (as per the National Telecom Policy-2012)", senior counsel P. Chidambaram told the apex court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
"Please don't dismiss us as an irrelevant players. We are as much a part of the telecom system as are consumers, the government, Telecom Commission and TRAI," he added.
As the court embarked on examining the various challenges to the tender condition for the auction of 2G spectrum, it stayed proceedings in five matters before Allahabad, Delhi, Karnataka and Tripura high courts wherein Reliance Telecom, Bharti Telecom and Idea Cellular have contested the tender conditions.
The court Wednesday stayed proceedings in four high courts on the batch of transfer petition by the Centre, seeking transfer of these cases to the apex court.
Referring to the NTP-2012, Chidambaram told the court that it recognises "the predominant role of the private sector in this field and the consequent policy imperative of ensuring continued viability of service providers in a competitive environment".
Chidambaram said this in response to the Centre's appeal, challenging the Tripura High Court's Feb 12, 2015, order permitting Reliance Telecom and Bharti Hexacon to make two bids -- one for 4.4 MHz and the other for 5 MHz of 2G spectrum in 900 MHz band for the north eastern states.
The high court, while modifying the tender condition, allowed the two service providers to make one bid online and the other offline by way of hardcopy.
Assailing the tender condition in north-eastern states wherein a TSP could bid for a minimum of 5MHZ only, Chidambaram said that minimum quantum of spectrum for which TSPs could bid depended on the context of available quantity of spectrum under hammer.
"The context is what quantity of spectrum is available and how can it be auctioned in a transparent manner" striking a balance of interest of various stake holders and maximising the public good.
Seeking that the court give more weightage to the TRAI recommendation, which had favoured fixing lower ceiling on the minimum spectrum for which bids could be made by the TSPs, Chidambaram said that though the Telecom Commission had competent people manning it but it was the TRAI which had "evolved over the years" and had the "institutional and technical capabilities" to decided such matters.
Earlier, addressing the court, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the high courts should not interfere in "informed policy decision" on the auction of air waves having bearing on government revenues.
Contending that Tripura High court did not understand the issue involved in the case before passing Feb 12 interim order, Rohatgi told the court: "If the auction of this nature which is going to fetch Rs.1,00,000 crore to the government is going to be interfered by the high courts then everything would come to naught."
Contending that the TRAI recommendations were not binding on the government, Rohatgi said the Department of Telecom could differ with it after they are examined by the DoT Committee and the Telecom Commission.
He said it was the same TRAI which had favoured auctioning a minimum of 5MHz of spectrum in 2012, 2013 and again in February 2014.
The attorney general said that even this time TRAI had said that for optimum utility a minimum of 5MHz was necessary but since the quantum of spectrum available in north-eastern states was A8.8 MHz therefore the minimum spectrum that can be bid by a TSP could be scaled down to less than 5MHz.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Bharti Hexacon, told the court that spectrum could still be fragmented by a TSP into 4.4 MHz each, if it succeeds in getting the entire 8.8 MHz that is going under the hammer in the north-east.
However, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar sought to clear the impression, saying that under the policy whatever quantity of spectrum a TSP may succeed in getting, it has to operate it as such and it could not fragment it.
The court will continue the hearing Thursday.