‘Know Your Regulator’: Mr Navreet Singh Kang, Chairperson of RERA, Punjab.

The State Capacity Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)’s talk series titled: ‘Know Your Regulator’ is held in collaboration with the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), the Forum of Indian Regulators (FOIR) and the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA). In this talk series, we are talking to chairpersons and members of India’s regulatory agencies about regulation of Indian markets and the economy.

As part of the series, Mr Navreet Singh Kang, Chairperson, Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), Punjab, was in conversation with Dr KP Krishnan, IEPF Chair Professor in Regulatory Economics, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and Ms Arkaja Singh, Fellow, State Capacity Initiative, Centre for Policy Research. The event was held on 25 November, 2021.

Here is a summary of the conversation:

Why was RERA setup?

RERA is a relatively recently established regulatory authority but one that has made a significant impact on market conditions in the sector it regulates. It is seen as having set the rules of the game in what is a volatile and risky business (real estate). RERA is also unique since it is only India that has a specific Real Estate Regulatory Authority, and this is a unique Indian experience.

RERA was setup for a few reasons: to promote transparency about the promoters’ credibility; to provide necessary approvals to the promoters to start a project and lastly, to provide quick resolution through an adjudicatory mechanism. Before RERA, customers had to go to the consumer forum or to the civil courts to complaint against the promoters. The level playing field was a bit distorted and the allottee was at the receiving end of these issues. That was the trigger for bringing in this Act so that there is a focussed, dedicated agency to monitor these things.

How is RERA structured?

The RERA Act says that there needs to be a chairperson and at least two full-time members. There is an Executive Director, who is typically a retired or a serving IAS officer and then there are four teams: Legal, Finance, IT and Registration and Regulation. RERA subsequently added a Town Planning division so that an officer can look at the promoters’ plans. The town planning officer is supposed to investigate the promoters’ floor plans and find out if the plans are within the remit of the law.

RERA has a separate authority for adjudication headed by an Adjudicating Officer who is usually a serving or retired district judge. There was some lack of clarity between the role of the Authority and the role of the Adjudicating Officer, but the Supreme Court has clarified that the Officer decides only the quantum of compensation and cannot make a substantial determination of the rights of the parties. Complaints made by the parties should therefore be heard by the Authority. The Authority must pass the order that the customer will be compensated for by the promoter and the Officer will decide on the compensation.

At RERA, there is a balance between retired people from government and other people without the baggage of government. In the managerial level, there are 25% of people who were formerly in government employment, the rest are from the private sector. Every recruitment is only through an open advertisement with an objectively defined criterion. Initial recruitment and screening are done by a committee of managers and the educational qualifications is laid down in our regulations. Attracting and retaining talent has not so far been a problem at RERA Punjab. Although the organisation does not offer permanent employment, if someone has been with RERA for a longer time, they are promoted and a higher level of renumeration is given to them. In the present structure, the possibility that a person in the RERA staff could become qualified to be a member or chairperson had not been envisaged. However, it is perhaps time to re-look at the promotion system from this perspective.

Although RERA is not very different from a government body in some ways, it is autonomous and more flexible. RERA is more informal and faster than a civil court, but these courts have greater powers of enforcement than a RERA. For orders that the Authority cannot execute, the matter is taken to the civil court. In terms of compliance, when RERA passes an order on development, the experience is that there is reasonable compliance on ground. Even overall compliance has been much better after the Act came out, especially so for new projects. There are legacy issues but hopefully that is changing.

RERA’s regulatory functions

The RERA Act says that promoters cannot develop their projects without registering with RERA. When a promoter registers with RERA, she must submit disclosure documents including status of approvals, title of the land or property, financial status etc. and RERA will upload these details on the website for the benefit of a prospective customer. Along with this, the promoter agrees to comply with certain terms and conditions. This perhaps encourages a certain degree of voluntary compliance.

Additionally, RERA is a dedicated agency that provides adjudicatory mechanism for grievances of allottees. RERA is not a consumer forum for the real estate sector, but the body is a regulator that is focussed on balanced development of this sector. RERA aims to regulate and promote and is keen to ensure that both the consumers and the promoters’ interests are balanced. The RERA Act discusses ways to reset terms between buyers and sellers. For this reason, when there is a delay in a project, RERA encourages the promoters to finish the project and the Authority also brings the buyers and builders together and negotiates between them. However, the Supreme Court passed a judgement that the allottee has the right to ask for refund of the money “on-demand”.[1] Genuine home buyers usually stick to a project despite delays but there are a group of buyers who will go by the market rate and would want to get out of the project. But when the market is looking up, buyers prefer to stick with the project.

Transparency and creating a credible platform are very important in RERA’s regulatory strategy but classic textbook perspective on regulatory authorities include elements of adjudicatory, executive, and legislative powers. Where does RERA fit into that?

RERAs have the authority to make regulations, but rulemaking power under the Act is with the state government. RERA has framed sets of regulations in the past and is hoping to come up with more in the future. These are not only specific to internal processes like staffing, recruitment procedures and administrative processes for the promoters and the consumers to raise queries, but they also include substantial regulations that have binding effect.

Executive powers of RERA include powers to enforce these regulations that RERA makes, and to enforce provisions of the Act and the Rules. Like all classic regulators, RERA has some elements of all three functions of the state – legislative, executive, adjudicatory powers – combined into one body. On a theoretical level, this is fundamentally violation of separation of powers.

However, in reality there is not much scope for conflict of interest as the rule-making function is mainly with the state government. RERA’s regulations only fill in the gap. For example, when a RERA receives a complaint, there are regulations on how the complaints should be handled. RERA only has limited powers of regulation. Recently, RERA’s regulations that said that a single member bench of the authority can hear complaints was quashed by the High Court. The Supreme Court later reversed this judgement, but this shows that RERA’s regulations are scrutinised. There are limits to the Authority’s powers.

There are three spheres in which RERA operates: a) contract enforcement where RERA looks at the builder-buyer contracts b) grievance redressal for customers in the real estate sector 3) regulation of activities in the urban sector. But all these three spheres also involve other players.Urban is a very tightly regulated sector and there are multiple authorities (like the Urban Development Authority) who regulate this sector. Contract enforcement also has its own legal machinery.  RERA exists because the existing machinery is not working properly. While playing a regulatory role, the other development authorities also play a promoter role. Their entire focus is not on regulation. But RERA helps in converging focus on this sector, and the Authority shares suggestions to the development authorities.

From seeking permission to build on a land to ensuring that the papers are in order, a builder must run around multiple authorities. Will RERA help consolidate all these into a single window?

RERA does not have the power to do these things, but the Authority has suggested to the government that there needs to be more cohesiveness to the entire project.

RERA has powers to levee fees and retains the fee for upkeep of RERA. In government, this is prohibited. The fundamental principle of government is that it cannot retain the fee and only legislature appropriates the budgets for government body. In RERA’s case, is there a potential conflict?

RERA’s budget comes from the state government and the fees that RERA collects from promoters or agents is enough to run the organisation. Unlike Income Tax, the Act itself says that the fee will be retained as part of Real Estate Regulatory Fund. It also says that that fund will be used for meeting the day-to-day expense of the Authority and for the Appellate tribunal headed by a retired High Court judge. However, this fee is set up the government, and not by RERA.

On the other hand, funds collected through penalties levied by RERA are not retained by RERA, but go to the consolidated fund of the state. In this way, there are some checks and balances built into the system.

You (Mr Kang) were the first chairperson of the Punjab’s Real Estate Authority. How did the setting up happen?

Punjab was the third state in the country to set up the Authority. We started from scratch where we walked into the office of Punjab Urban development authority, and we told them that they should help us since they have constituted us as an Authority. We got a pantry and a room with a veranda for starters. We also got a personal assistant. We have changed locations since. Finding a place for the office, recruiting staff, formalising regulations, seeking government approvals for the administrative regulations we made. All this was part of the process of setting up a new Authority.

What is AIFORERA?

The All India Forum of Real Estate Regulatory Body (AIFORERA) is a registered society, a central body with a Chairman, Vice President etc. It is also a central coordinating body. Mr Kang has been an office bearer at AIFORERA for the last two years. It provides a very useful platform for the state RERAs to meet and there are usually quarterly meetings. AIFORERA collates all the orders passed by other RERAs, the body takes up issues with the Ministries and the members also help in research activities. It helps to have a common voice. Currently, AIFORERA is headed by the chairperson of Tamil Nadu RERA.

Are there measures to assess RERA’s successes?

AIFORERA has been hosting a web series every month where various stake holders including private sector developers, financing institutions etc participate. They have agreed that this has made an impact. There is no quantification yet but qualitatively, we know that the Act has made a difference. If there were to be external evaluation, one would need data and all that data (complaints received, complaints resolved etc). is out there in the public domain. This data can help evaluate RERA’s successes as well.

Regulation and Public Interest

From its inception to setting up, RERA has been a unique regulatory authority in the real estate space. There are many nitty gritty challenges here and not many want to engage with the details to understand regulatory capacity. For example, in the areas around Chandigarh, the relationship between the builder and the landowner is quite transactional, unlike in the rural areas where people are closely attached to their land. But several rural landowners and farmers have themselves become promoters. The development of the sector is dependent on the market cycles.

Regulation is part economy, part society and part politics. Regulatory purpose is ultimately in the public interest. The regulatory challenges at different parts of the country are very different for each RERAs although all the RERAs come under the RERA Act. RERA is not a consumer forum, and the Authority’s interest is to promote a balanced development of the sector. If the Act is implemented properly, it will be a big step towards ensuring this development. RERA Punjab is focussed on improving capacity and improving interaction with its stakeholders.

[1] Newtech Promoters and Develpers Pvt Ltd VS State of UP & ORS etc. https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2021/5013/5013_2021_14_1502_31099_Judgement_11-Nov-2021.pdf

Navroz Dubash on Climate-Related Challenges in 2022

Navroz Dubash is a Professor at CPR’s Initiative on Climate, Energy and Environment. His research interests include climate change, energy, air pollution, water policy, and the politics of regulation in the developing world. In this interview as part of the Leading Policy Conversations series, he discusses the climate-related challenges India confronts in 2022.

What do you think will be the climate-related challenges for India in 2022?

The past year was dominated by short term considerations of battling COVID-19, but at the end of the year, climate change re-emerged, driven by a high profile global meeting at Glasgow. In the build-up, countries were pressed to upgrade their national climate pledges. Our Prime Minister announced that India will reach net zero emissions by 2070, along with a series of other announcements.

In 2022, our challenge will be to figure out a way of credibly work toward these announcements, but also to clarify and deepen our collective understanding of their implications. A high carbon route to industrialisation is no longer desirable or possible, because a high-carbon path is a technologically backward path, and one that is likely to undercut India’s competitiveness. India has to embrace low-carbon development, but also has to do so while eradicating poverty, creating jobs, and building a just society. This is not an easy set of challenges.

2021 also threw up diplomatic challenges, as developed countries put a great deal of pressure on developing countries to update pledges. Yet, finance support from the north was limited, as were indications of leadership on carbon reducing policies. In 2022, climate negotiations will start a ‘global stocktake’ to assess progress. India will have to position ourselves for this process. It is not enough to claim the importance of climate equity; we will have to show what this means in terms of emission futures and development needs in different countries.

Finally, 2021 saw climate damages in India, as well as around the world. Climate change, it would seem, is no longer a future problem, but a now problem. Like other countries, India needs to reckon seriously with the ravages of climate impacts when we make development decisions.

How should policymakers address these challenges in the year?

  • First, India can more fully develop and implement a model of low carbon development, oriented around decarbonising the electricity sector, preparing for a decadal just transition away from coal-based power, building a renewable energy infrastructure that creates jobs, building public transport systems that support enhance quality of life and other such measures. To seize this opportunity, India needs to base its ‘nationally determined contribution’ around sectoral low carbon transitions that enhance development and job creation.
  • Second, these changes won’t happen automatically – they should be enabled by government institutions. This includes a low-carbon development commission that also supports states and cities to experiment with low carbon futures and work toward a dedicated climate law. The legal framework should enable and facilitate low-carbon development rather than forces carbon regulation.
  • Third, India has to take seriously the risks of climate impacts and plan for a more resilient society. This includes deepening state action plans, but also mainstreaming resilience into development decisions. The centre needs to help ensure financial resources are accessible for more vulnerable states.
  • Finally, India needs to proactively engage the global negotiation process, championing climate equity by both calling on richer countries to do more while serving as a model for low-carbon development and building resilience at home.

Shyam Saran on Foreign Policy Challenges in 2022

Shyam Saran is a Senior Fellow at CPR. He is a former Foreign Secretary of India and has served as Prime Minister’s Special Envoy For Nuclear Affairs and Climate Change. In this interview as part of the Leading Policy Conversations series, he discusses the foreign policy challenges India confronts in 2022 and how policymakers should address them.

India will confront both familiar and unfamiliar challenges in 2022. Managing India’s immediate sub-continental neighbourhood will remain a key preoccupation. Relations with China are likely to remain tense, with new points of contention emerging at the India-China border. Concerns over China’s expanding influence in our neighbouring countries will demand effective responses. Pakistan regards the victory of Taliban as giving it renewed geopolitical advantage and there could be a revival of Pakistan sponsored cross-border terrorism and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s alliance with China means that it will have a powerful shield in international fora when faced with allegations of being a sponsor of terrorism. This will be both a security and a diplomatic challenge for India.

Beyond the neighbourhood, India has done well to nurture closer relations with the Gulf states and the newly established Quad in the West, comprising of India, Israel, U.A.E and the U.S. is a promising initiative. The Quad in the Indo-Pacific is likely to see further consolidation as concerns over China continue to mount. In this context, India should re-energize its Act East policy and rethink its participation in regional trade arrangements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). It should revive its application to become a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). To think out of the box, India may consider its membership of the more ambitious Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTTP) in which China is not yet a member. This will strengthen the economic pillar of India’s Act East policy.

India is a maritime power and it commands the sea lanes connecting the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. It is important that India retains and enhances this geopolitical asset it possesses. It is hoped that in 2022 there will be a clear priority to maritime power and a strengthening of partnerships with other friendly maritime powers including India’s partners in the Quad.

2022 should see India augmenting its multilateral diplomacy capacities as most of the defining challenges in the new millennium are cross-cutting and global in dimension. These include global public health issues such as the pandemic we are suffering from and the looming Climate Change emergency. These are not amenable to national or even regional solutions. They demand global, collaborative responses, delivered through multilateral processes and empowered international institutions of governance. India has a tradition of activism in the multilateral arena and is well placed to play an active, even leading role in this respect.

2022 will be a year of continuing change. Some changes will be unexpected and uncertainty may be the only certainty we can count on. But periods of change create risks but also generate potential opportunities. Indian foreign policy will need the capacity to manage risks but without foregoing the chance to profit from opportunities which may also emerge. Diplomacy will need to be marked by both prudence and agility.

Uncovering the Historical Aspects of Sino-India Ties


We are delighted to present a brand new series hosted by Sushant Singh (Senior Fellow, CPR), featuring leading experts on the multiple facets of Sino-India relations. In the first episode of the series, we are joined by Arunabh Ghosh (Historian and Associate Professor of Modern Chinese, History Department, Harvard University) to unpack Sino-India relations through a historical lens.

Together, Singh and Ghosh uncover the relationship between the two neighbours through documented exchanges in the 1950s involving statistics, mathematics and discussions on transnational institutions and scientific networks. They discuss the decline of these exchanges after the 1962 war, why the inadequate academic scholarship has not improved since and the dangers of intermediation of knowledge through a western prism. With China’s economic success creating a sense of envy in India, it is important to acknowledge the history of this success, the role of imperial legacies in the border crisis and the need to understand the nature of the Chinese state and what exactly happened between the two great nations.

Arunabh Ghosh website: https://scholar.harvard.edu/arunabh.ghosh

Books mentioned:

  • Making it Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the early People’s Republic of China, Arunabh Ghosh (2020)
  • Great State: China and the World, Timothy Brook (2019)
  • From Rebel to Ruler: One Hundred Years of the Chinese Communist Party, Tony Saich (2021)
  • The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Ji Xianlin (2016)
  • Eight Outcasts: Social and Political Marginalization in China Under Mao, Yang Kuisong (2019)
  • How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate, Isabella Weber (2021)

Dr KP Krishnan joins CPR as Honorary Research Professor


The Centre for Policy Research (CPR) is delighted to welcome Dr KP Krishnan who joins as Honorary Research Professor.

Dr Krishnan was educated in Economics at St. Stephens College and Law at the Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi and obtained his Ph.D in Economics from IIM Bangalore. He joined the IAS in 1983 and superannuated from the service in 2019.

Before retiring as Secretary Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, he served in various positions in Government of Karnataka, Government of India and the World Bank, primarily in the areas of Economic Affairs and Macro Policy and Rural and Urban Development.

Yamini Aiyar, President and Chief Executive, CPR, said, “We are delighted to welcome Dr KP Krishnan to the CPR family. Amongst India’s foremost bureaucrats, his diverse, multi-sectoral experience will strengthen our work on state capacity, regulation, and economic policy.”

Dr Krishnan has authored a number of reports and published many academic papers. In 2012, he held the BoK Visiting Professorship in Regulation in the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 2017, he was conferred with the Distinguished Alumni Award of IIM Bangalore. From August 2020 to December 2021 he served as the IEPF Chair Professor at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). He has been a Visiting Professor of Economics, Public Policy and Regulation at the LBSNAA Mussorie, ISB Hyderabad and Mohali, Ashoka University and IIM Bangalore.

He writes a monthly column (Artikam Chintanam-thoughts on the economy) in the Business Standard focusing on the Indian economy and financial sector issues since August 2020.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India: Briefing Note

Setting the Context for Regulating the Telecommunications Sector

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), an independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector was created by an Act of Parliament, the TRAI Act, 1997. The establishment of TRAI was a momentous event in India’s telecom development story.

Economic liberalisation ushered in significant changes to the telecom sector in India. Telecom transitioned from being a government monopoly to an industry with multiple private participants. The process of strengthening the telecom sector had begun in the early 1980s, with the creation of the National Electronics Policy, 1984 and the setting up of two corporatised entities – the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) and the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). Until such time, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) within the Ministry of Communications was the only service provider, since telecom was believed to be a “natural monopoly”. This change marked the beginning of the corporatisation of services previously only provided by a government department. In the early 1990s, the National Telecom Policy (1994) was announced. Among other things, it allowed private investment in basic telephone services for the first time in India. The constitutional validity of the 1994 policy was challenged on the ground that telecommunications, being a sensitive service, ought to remain under the exclusive control of the government. The Supreme Court of India upheld the policy and cited countries where telecommunications had been privatised and regulatory authorities had been established for the same.

As more private investment was allowed in the telecom sector in India, there were concerns of an unequal playing field between private service providers and DoT (as a service provider and policy maker). It was proposed that an independent and impartial sectoral regulator, at arm’s length from the government, should be established. This led to the inception of TRAI.

In its original form, TRAI was vested with administrative and adjudicatory functions. Its adjudicatory powers were, however, limited. For instance, it could not adjudicate disputes between DoT and other telecom players. Further, on the policy-making side, TRAI could only provide recommendations on significant aspects of telecom regulations and DoT was not obligated to seek the advice of TRAI. Officials of DoT were members of TRAI as well. While TRAI was a regulator and a dispute settlement body, DoT continued making policies for the sector. Expectedly, this led to a conflict between TRAI and the Ministry. There were also concerns about TRAI being able to execute its functions in an independent and impartial manner. In the year 1999, the New Telecom Policy was released. It clarified that DoT was one among the many providers in the telecom market and stated the government’s commitment to a “strong and independent regulator with comprehensive powers and clear authority to effectively perform its functions”.

With the objective of enabling the effective regulation of the telecom sector, the government amended the TRAI Act in the year 2000. This brought changes to TRAI’s regulatory remit. The Authority’s adjudicatory functions were shifted to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). The TRAI Act was amended to state that, both, TRAI and TDSAT will regulate telecommunication services, adjudicate disputes, dispose of appeals, and protect the interests of service providers and consumers of the telecom sector, with the aim of promoting and ensuring its orderly growth.

Powers and functions of TRAI

Section 11 of the TRAI Act specifies the powers and functions of the Authority. Broadly, the telecom regulator’s functions can be classified under the following heads:
● Making recommendations, either suo-moto on or request from the Government, on issues concerning licenses, competition and technological improvements, development of telecommunication technology, equipment used by service providers, and efficient spectrum management.
● Discharging functions relating to compliance with license conditions, technical compatibility and interconnection between service providers, revenue sharing arrangements between them, specifying the quality of services and conducting periodic surveys on services provided etc.
● Levying fees and other charges at rates specified by regulations.
● Notifying rates at which telecommunication services will be provided.
● Undertaking and performing any other functions as entrusted to it by the Central Government.

The recommendations provided by TRAI are not binding on the Central Government. With regard to recommendations pertinent to licensing issues, TRAI can request, and the Government is bound to provide, information/documents necessary for the purposes of making recommendations.

Under Section 35 and 36 of the Act, TRAI is empowered to make regulations consistent with the Act and the rules to carry out the provisions of the Act. It has issued regulations on consumer protection, grievance redressal system, mobile number portability, reporting systems, standards for quality of services, fees and charges levied etc. In addition to these legislative functions, it is also expected to perform executive functions involving information gathering, monitoring, and supervising the conduct of service providers. TRAI is vested with powers to call for information from service providers, appoint persons to make inquiries into their affairs, and inspect their books and accounts whenever necessary. It may also issue directions for the proper functioning of all service providers and for them to comply with its rules and regulations. While the adjudicatory functions of TRAI were moved to TDSAT, it still has some residual judicial powers to ensure effective enforcement. For instance, under Section 29 of the Act, the Authority has been given the power to impose penalties for the contravention of its directions and regulations.

Section 11 of the TRAI Act requires the Authority to ‘ensure transparency’ while exercising its powers and discharging functions. In view of such a requirement, TRAI has adopted good regulatory practices. For instance, it has developed a mechanism to promote stakeholder participation in, both, the regulation-making and recommendation-making processes. It issues a consultation paper laying out issues for discussion and invites public comments on it. The comments are released on the TRAI website. It also organises open house discussions and provides an opportunity for stakeholders to present their views in public and interact with TRAI officials. Another way in which it promotes transparency is by releasing ‘explanatory memorandums’ along-with regulations issued by it. These memorandums provide the rationale for the Authority’s regulatory interventions and decisions.

The definition of “telecommunication service” under the TRAI Act was revised, in the year 2000, to provide that the Central Government may expand TRAI’s mandate under the Act by broadening the definition to include any other service. In January 2004, broadcasting and cable services were added to TRAI’s mandate.

The telecom sector in India

India’s telecom sector is second only to China’s and is also among the fastest growing networks in the world. The market size is primarily driven by wireless networks. As per the quarterly TRAI Telecom Services Performance Indicators Report (July – September 2021), 98.19% of India’s 1.2 billion telecom subscribers are on wireless networks. Similarly, 97% of the subscriber base in internet services is on wireless networks. There has also been significant growth in the mobile services industry. Around a decade back, there were 10-14 mobile service providers in the country. This competition enabled the adoption of wireless services, and brought down tariffs. Data usage charges, however, are understood to have stayed high until the telecom market witnessed the disruptive entry of Reliance Jio. As per analysis done using TRAI Performance Indicators Reports, data prices saw an immediate decline from Rs. 180 per GB in September 2016 to Rs. 160 per GB in December 2016 and a drastic decline to Rs. 6.98 per GB in 2019. Simultaneously, many smaller players were acquired and the market presently has three large private sector operators – Reliance Jio, Vodafone-Idea and Airtel. These 3 private players together are understood to own almost 88% of the market.

The Indian telecom sector is now data-driven, predominantly due to lower tariffs, and easier accessibility and availability, however, it remains skewed in favour of urban dwellers. While India is touted to be one of the lowest priced telecom markets in the world, the focus ought to shift to the quality of these services. For instance, call drops are an indicator of poor service quality. It is understood that the drastic cut in tariffs which many operators were forced to introduce due to Reliance Jio’s extremely low tariffs, shrunk their revenue streams and led to lower investments in network infrastructure itself. The sectoral regulator is often criticised for focusing unduly on price based competition and not enough on longer-term consumer interests in terms of the quality of services.

In recent years, the industry debt burden has increased – primarily owing to spectrum acquisition and network upgradation. With the industry’s sustainable future at risk, some incumbents including the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) made a request to TRAI regarding the introduction of floor prices, i.e. a minimum amount of profit for telecom operators for an interim period in order to help them recover financially.

More generally, there has also been debate regarding ‘competition regulation’ in the telecom sector. While the TRAI Act empowers the regulator to undertake “measures to facilitate competition and promote efficiency in the operation of telecommunication services”, competition as a subject also falls under the direct regulatory ambit of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). In 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled on the overlapping responsibilities of TRAI and CCI and decided that once the technical fact is determined by the sectoral regulator, then CCI can proceed to examine the anti-competitive nature of the agreement concerned.

As India’s telecom development story shifts focus to the quality of services offered, it must also find ways to address long-standing challenges such as the digital divide, which has further deepened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In view of this, expanded telecom infrastructure capacity will be necessary. Further, for the quick adoption and roll out of the 5G technology, the challenge of high spectrum pricing will have to be resolved in the context of the overall health of the telecom industry. In addition to these, potential challenges in the form of bundling of services, pressures from online businesses etc. may require interventions in the future. In a fast-evolving sector such as telecom, the regulator will continue to play a tremendous role in straddling consumer expectations, investments, pricing, competition and the quality of telecommunication services in India.

Dissecting Electoral Trends for Assembly Elections 2022

With crucial assembly elections, all eyes are on the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Why are these elections important? What are the key electoral issues in these states? How will these elections shape the political narrative for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections? In episode 13 of India Speak: The CPR Podcast, Yamini Aiyar (President and Chief Executive, CPR) is joined by Rahul Verma (Fellow, CPR) to determine the current political trends and his outlook for the 2022 assembly elections. With the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) emerging as new actors in the opposition, they discuss what this means for the Congress. They also discuss where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) stand in the race. Further, Aiyar and Verma focus on the role of political economic dynamics in the political outcome of any electoral campaign, the long term implications of these polls for national politics and what they signal for 2024.