Telecom operators, users to pay for PM's 'clean India' campaign

The union government is planning to impose an additional cess on telecom companies to help fund Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachch Bharat (Clean India) campaign.

The decision was taken at the cabinet meeting on 5 January.

The Department of Telecommunications has been told to work out the modalities and submit a proposal by 15 January. The DoT is reportedly examining ways to implement the proposal.

An additional cess will further burden India's debt-ridden telecom industry, which is forced to pay through its nose for drabs and dribbles of spectrum.

And the telecom operators will undoubtedly pass on the burden to Indian consumers, already struggling under internet speeds that make a mockery of the term 'broadband'.

The proposal is in the face of the industry demand for reducing levies. In fact the cabinet's directive to DoT comes at a time when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (a semi-autonomous body that is often at odds with the government-controlled DoT) has proposed a reduction in the licence fees  from 8 per cent to 6 per cent of the operator's revenue.

The telecom minister is said to have been asked at the cabinet meet to bring a proposal for its consideration by 15 January.

The government is looking at the feasibility of imposing Swachchh Bharat cess on various other sectors as well.

The government had set up a Swachchh Bharat Kosh to pursue the Swachchh Bharat campaign. It has been set up to facilitate channelisation of philanthropic contributions and corporate social re-sponsibility (CSR) funds towards this cause.

Swachchh Bharat Kosh would be administered by a governing council chaired by the secretary, department of expenditure.

Telecom service providers together paid spectrum usage charge (SUC) of `6,114 crore in 2013-14.

The cabinet has also asked the telecom department to give a proposal to notify dedicated spectrum for defence forces as 'Defence Band (DB) and Defence Interest Zone (DIZ)'.

According to officials, defence has said that it will release more 3G spectrum as demanded by telecom operators once DB and DIZ are notified.

The telecom operators have been demanding more spectrum for the forthcoming auction.