In a surprise move, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has re-appointed R S Sharma (pictured) chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). This is for the first time that any Trai chief has got an extension beyond the three-year tenure. Sharma, who was set to retire on Thursday, will now remain as chairman till September 30, 2020.
‘’The ACC has approved the re-appointment of Ram Sewak Sharma as chairperson, Trai, for a further period beyond August 10, 2018 up to September 30, 2020, i.e the date on which he attains the age of 65 years or until further orders, whichever is earlier,’’ an official order said.
Sharma, who has had an action-packed tenure during which the Telecom industry faced severe financial stress, was recently at the centre of a controversy after he threw a Twitter challenge on the safety of Aadhaar. He had put out his unique number on the micro-blogging site, prompting social media to go viral on the issue.
Subsequently, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had to issue an advisory telling people not to put out Aadhar details in public domain.
The 1978 batch (retired) IAS officer of Jharkhand cadre, had taken over as the Trai chief in July 2015. During the past three years, Trai came out with recommendations on many contemporary subjects including net neutrality, data privacy and flight telephony. Last week, the Telecom watchdog issued recommendations on spectrum auction including in 5G. Among other things, Trai suggested slashing the base price of spectrum across many bands including the premium 700 MHz category.
It was during Sharma’s tenure that the Telecom sector witnessed the entry of Reliance Jio and rock-bottom tariffs, forcing the industry to face severe financial stress. The Trai chief has in the past come up for criticism for not doing enough to offer relief to the stressed telcos, resulting in significant consolidation in the industry. Regulations regarding termination charges, points of interconnect and predatory pricing have specifically been under attack. Some of the leading Telecom operators have from time to time claimed that some of the Trai rules helped Reliance Jio. Sharma has denied those allegations.
As the Trai Act does not provide for an extension of the chairman’s post, the government is learnt to have re-appointed Sharma as chairman. It’s not clear yet whether the Trai Act needs to be amended for retaining Sharma as the chief for another two years. The Act was amended in May 2014, when Nripendra Misra was appointed principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Misra had served as Trai Chairman from 2006 to 2009.
As per the earlier rule, the Trai chairperson or any member could not take further employment under the Central Government or any State Government after ceasing to hold office.
When Sharma assumed charge in 2015, one of his first pro-customer moves was the call drop compensation regulation, which was later struck down by the Supreme Court. After that he came out with measures on improving quality of services of Telecom consumers. During his tenure, Trai also came out with mobile apps like Do Not Disturb (DND), Mycall, speed test etc, to help consumers.
Before becoming the Trai chief, Sharma had worked as Information Technology secretary and Director General and Mission Director with the UIDAI.