It is not easy for the head of a public sector firm to quiz a cabinet minister on a public platform. But some PSU chiefs like Arundhati Bhattacharya, India’s most powerful woman, know how to speak their mind.
The chairperson of State Bank of India (SBI), who was awarded the Transformational Business Leader of the Year at NDTV’s Indian of the Year, had some hard-hitting questions for IT and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad at the event. The minister welcomed the questions – saying “feel free to ask any question to dispel the misconception that PSU people don’t have that liberty”.
After accepting the award from the minister, she had a humble suggestion for him – India should consider an alternative model for auctioning spectrum to telecom players where the spectrum is linked to the amount of money telecom firms are willing to commit to building the infrastructure in the country. “There are countries we have visited where the infrastructure is very good. They keep the licence fee very low but hand out spectrum only to firms that commit the highest spend in infrastructure,” she suggested. “This way the revenue does not initially go to the government, but by way of infrastructure, its helps boost economic growth,” she said.
Ravi Shankar Prasad disagreed with her, saying that the Supreme Court has mandated the government to auction natural resources and that there isn’t enough competition for this model to work. But Bhattacharya stuck to her stand, saying this “beauty parade” model of awarding spectrum was also akin to an auction and one that would hugely help boost infrastructure.
The other question the SBI chief asked the telecom minister was as a common person – Where are call rates headed? The minister was non-committal in his response. “The market will determine,” he said.