Ravi Shankar Prasad to ‘quickly’ table data protection bill, notify norms
NEW DELHI: Telecom and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that his top priorities would be to “quickly” take the data protection bill to Parliament and notify the proposed amendments to the intermediary guidelines.
Prasad, 64, was on Friday appointed as the new minister for telecommunications, while he retained the IT and law ministries in the second innings of the Modi government. He will formally assume office on Monday, June 3.
“I am very grateful to the PM for entrusting me once again with such responsibility. In IT, we will try to quickly get the data protection bill to the Parliament and also, notifying the intermediary guidelines,” Prasad told reporters Friday, soon after his portfolio was made public by the government.
The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 deals with privacy and security of data and information of Indian citizens. The government is also working on amendments to the intermediary guidelines under the IT Act, or rules regulating internet and social media companies such as WhatsApp and Facebook, aimed at curbing rumours and fake news, which had spurred protests from social activists and opposition parties over alleged attempts at snooping on citizens.
“In telecom, I will first need to ascertain the status of the sector before evolving the action plan. We will try to lake a long-term view of the sectoral issues and address in the long-term interest of the sector,” Prasad said.
The new BJP Lok Sabha MP from Patna Sahib, Prasad has been a three-time Rajya Sabha MP. He was Minister for Communications and IT and Law and Justice from 2014 to 2016. After the communications and IT ministries were split in 2016 as part of a Cabinet reshuffle, Prasad retained IT and law, while telecom was given to Manoj Sinha, who lost in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Communications has now once again been combined with IT under Prasad.
As the new telecom minister, Prasad's top priorities will be to nurse the industry back to health, besides laying the ground for the deploying 5G technology in India amid a push to drive the country into the digital age. Prasad would also consider keeping revival of BSNL and MTNL on top of his agenda list.
He will need to take a key decision on whether to levy a collective penalty of Rs 3050 crore on Airtel, Idea and Vodafone for allegedly denying Reliance Jio adequate points of interconnection, as recommended by the telecom regulator. The matter is also in court.
Other issues that will need his immediate attention include review of levies such as license fee, spectrum usage charges (SUC) and defining what does the government mean by adjusted gross revenue (AGR), will have to be taken up, said industry executives. These issues have also been highlighted in the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) – under which the government has said it won’t consider the sector only as a revenue generator - the fast implementation of which will also be keenly watched.
Prasad will also have to balance the demand for lowering spectrum base prices and allocating spectrum at the right price to ensure no loss to the exchequer. At the same time, he will have to ensure that there's adequate spectrum being put up for sale at every auction.
During his time as telecom minister, the most successful spectrum auction in India that fetched Rs 1.10 lakh crore of revenue was conducted. Policies such as spectrum trading, spectrum sharing, spectrum liberalization, defence band identification, virtual network operator, full mobile number portability and policy for sharing of active and passive telecom infrastructure were cleared to pave way for massive foreign investments.
As IT minister, Prasad was instrumental in delivering the Modi government’s Make in India program, with multi-crore investments from top manufacturing companies from across the world.
In 2019, there were 268 mobile and ancillary manufacturing units in India. Under his leadership, India became the second largest mobile phone producers in the world in 2019 from just two mobile factories in 2014.
He has done MA in Political Science and LLB from the Patna University, and is also a practicing senior Supreme Court lawyer.