Aruna Sundararajan, secretary of IT and electronics will now be taking full charge of the department of telecom (DoT), which till now was an additional charge given to her in May.
A notification to this effect was issued by the department of personnel, Wednesday, according to which Sundararajan will be at the helm of telecom department filing a vacancy created by posting of former telecom secretary JS Deepak to the WTO as India representative. After Deepak, power secretary PK Pujari was handling DoT as additional charge for a few months before Sundararajan was brought in.
Ajay Prakash Sawhney will take over as secretary for electronics and IT, the government notification added.
One of the key challenges ahead of Sundararajan is the critical condition of the financial health of the sector, for which telecom minister Manoj Sinha and the secretary will be meeting promoters of leading Indian carriers on Thursday.
The meeting – to be attended by Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal, Reliance Communications chairman Anil Ambani and chief executives of Reliance Jio, Tata Teleservices and Idea Cellular – is part of deliberations on solutions for the massive stress on the sector`s financials. Banking sector puts the debt associated with telecom at Rs 7.29 lakh crore.
An inter-ministerial panel consisting of members from telecom, finance and revenue, is already looking into this issue, even as the department has sought for cutting of non-tax revenue estimates for 2017-18 by 37% to just over Rs 29,500 crore.
The poor financial health also puts a big question mark on the spectrum auctions that the department is preparing for this fiscal, where airwaves in the 700 Mhz band, 3400 Mhz and 3600 Mhz bands for 5G services, may be up for sale. The department is not expecting any revenue from auctions this year.
The department is also mulling on bringing out a new telecom policy, contours of which are still in the works, while it would also have to take a call on Rs 3,050 crore penalties on Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India, recommended by telecom regulator Trai.
The issue of the regulator getting more powers is also among the several that will be on Sundararajan`s table.
Sundararajan, from the 1982 batch of Kerala cadre, will take on the role at a time when the debt-laden sector is going through hyper competition on tariffs that is impacting bottom line due to entry of new entrant Reliance Jio, amid large scale consolidation.