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Pramod Mahajan Great Expectations

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DQW Bureau
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"We have great expectations from him". This is how a senior telecom consultant reacted to the appointment of Pramod Mahajan as the union communications minister. Like him, many others have welcomed Mahajan's entry into Sanchar Bhawan. Optimism and expectations are the buzzwords in the telecom industry when it comes to

Mahajan.

A number of factors have contributed to this optimism. First, unlike his predecessor, Mahajan neither owns a Lok Jana Shakti nor does he have a populist agenda in hand. The new minister is therefore, being seen as someone with whom the industry would be more comfortable in dealing with. Second, as a minister for IT, he has been fairly active or at least, been seen pushing the industry's agenda. And to keep up with the industry's expectations, Mahajan has already started making statements that are being received by the industry positively. Take for instance, his views on the protracted litigation bogging the services business, especially those related to the cellular sector. Mahajan has expressed his strong desire to make the Indian telecom business litigation-free. For this, he has asked for support from all the private sector players to amicably settle matters out of the court. Apparently, this was the reason why we saw some positive movement on the issue of pending cellular license fee of Bharti in Punjab. The issue has been hanging on fire for quite sometime, now.

His appointment also had some good news for the public sector-BSNL. In his first major announcement after taking over, Mahajan dissolved the Telecom Advisory Committees (TACs) which were proving an unnecessary financial burden on the state operator. BSNL was annually losing around Rs 50 crore in maintaining these committees.

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Mahajan's announcement that the ban on Internet telephony would by lifted up by April 2002, is also a step in the right direction and shows the minister's keenness to accept new technologies as something inevitable.

However, it is too early to rate Mahajan's performance in the ministry. But one thing is clear. He has a number of important tasks in hand and his performance will only define whether he was a success or a failure. He needs to work hard to give a push to investments in the Indian telecom. Given the amount of money that India needs, it is not an easy task. Some estimates say, India would need around 30 billion dollars by 2005 to push its tele-density to seven. An enormous task for Mahajan indeed.

Besides, the face of the Indian telecom is going to change a lot after April 2002, when the last bastion of state monopoly in the Indian telecom-international long distance-is going to fall. Not only will Mahajan be expected to oversee the successful opening up of the international long distance, he will also have to oversee a smooth divestment of the government control in

VSNL.

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On the policy front, since he is also the parliamentary affairs minister, it is expected from him that he would be actively pushing for an early passage of the Convergence Bill 2000. The bill has been stuck up for long. Before that, he has to smoothly work out the merger of IT and telecom ministry for the enforcement of the Convergence Act. Among other things, Mahajan could also earn some fine points for himself if he successfully overcomes hurdles coming in the way of successful implementation of all points in National Telecom Policy 1999. The regulator needs to be strengthened and issues like fair interconnection for private service providers need his attention.

How Mahajan deals with these issues, is yet to be seen. Hope he is not tied up with his other roles as parliamentary affairs minister and minister for information technology and finds enough time to be a regular at Sanchar

Bhawan.

Ravi Shekhar Pandey

Source: www.voicendata.com

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