By BS Reporter
Barely a few days before the auction of second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum, the finance ministry on Friday gave some breather to operators by allowing them to refinance rupee loans for upfront payment with cheaper and long-term external commercial borrowing (ECB).
Besides, those who would bid successfully (the auction is on Monday) are to be allowed to avail ECB raised by their parent company without any cap on the ECB liability-equity ratio. The Reserve Bank of India is expected to issue a circular to this effect within a week, an official statement added.
In 2010, the government had allowed a window of 12 months to successful bidders at the auction for third-generation (3G) spectrum to refinance the rupee loans.
Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said the ECB route would be helpful could be of limited use. "As the reserve price (for the auction) is very high, there would be just a few companies who will require availing this route to secure funds," he said. The government has set the reserve price at Rs 14,000 crore.
Yesterday, the cabinet had cleared a proposal to impose a one-time charge on incumbent GSM operators' spectrum beyond 4.4 MHz. According to the department of telecom's (DoT's) calculation, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Aircel, Idea Cellular and state-owned BSNL and MTNL would have to together pay Rs 24,989 crore for this purpose. Nearly half of this (Rs 11,573 crore) would have to be borne by government telecom operators.
The cabinet had deferred a decision in this respect on CDMA operators, as there are no bidders for this band in the auction, with both Videocon and Tata Teleservices having pulled out.
The year's Union budget had estimated proceeds from the 2G spectrum sale and one-time fee at Rs 40,000 crore. Yesterday, Finance Minister P Chidambaram had stated the target now was Rs 30,000 crore revenue from this route. However, DoT officials said the proceeds could be just Rs 20,000 crore.