Airtel gets okay for 4G spectrum trading deal with Aircel

Airtel 4G in Kerala
Mobile network operator Bharti Airtel has received the clearance from the Indian telecom ministry for the Rs 3,500 crore 4G spectrum trading deal with smaller rival Aircel.

The Indian telecom company has received the approval, according to unconfirmed media reports, at a time when some of the telecom industry stakeholders are urging the India government to stop Aircel’s deal with Reliance Communications, a telecom operator promoted by Anil Ambani, and Bharti Airtel.

Bharti Airtel declined to comment on the spectrum trading deal when contacted.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the former telecom minister of India, cleared the spectrum trading deal between Bharti Airtel and Aircel on July 4, PTI reported. As on July 4, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was in-charge of the Telecom Ministry as well.

Ravi Shankar Prasad was removed as the telecom minister on July 5.

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile operator promoted by Sunil Mittal, aims to acquire rights to use 4G spectrum of Aircel in eight telecom circles such as Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam, the North-East, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

As part of receiving the permission for the spectrum sharing deal, Bharti Airtel surrendered 1.2 Mhz spectrum in 1800 Mhz band in Odisha circle as it breached the spectrum cap limit — after taking into account Aircel’s spectrum. Indian telecom operators cannot hold more than 25 percent of the total spectrum allocated in a telecom service area.

Demand for scrapping Aircel deals

Activists are demanding that Aircel’s deals with both Reliance Communications and Bharti Airtel should be on hold till Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) concludes the ongoing investigation into the Maxis case.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, in a letter on July 8, demanded that CBI and ED should urgently freeze spectrum held by Aircel, alleging that its Malaysian parent Maxis will “abscond” if the proposed deals with Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications are allowed to go through.

CBI has already filed a detailed chargesheet against Aircel/Maxis and its Malaysian owner T Ananda Krishnan. Even ED has filed cases against them and attached properties of former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran, but not that of Maxis, said Prashant Bhushan in the letter. Malaysia-based Maxis Communications holds 74 percent stake in Aircel while 26 percent is held by Sindya Securities and Investments.

In August 2014, CBI filed the chargesheet with the 2G special court, alleging that Dayanidhi Maran entered into a criminal conspiracy with Ananda Krishnan and “forced” Chennai-based telecom promoter C Sivasankaran to sell his stake in Aircel to Ananda Krishnan in lieu of investments by Maxis Group into Sun Direct TV (owned by Maran brothers).

CBI filed the chargesheet against Dayanidhi Maran, Kalanidhi Maran, Ananda Krishnan, Ralph Marshall (executive of the Maxis group) and four firms — Maxis Communication, Astro All Asia Network, Sun Direct TV, South Asia Entertainment Holdings in Mauritius, the PTI report added.

Prashant Bhushan says spectrum is the main asset for a telecom operating company. Maxis should not be allowed to sell spectrum and equity unless all the accused Ananda Krishnan and firm Maxis comply with summons issued by the 2G special court.