Manoj Sinha took charge as the new telecom minister on Wednesday in the Department of Telecommunications. The appointment of Sinha, brings with it a major challenge in the way of speeding up implementation of the much-delayed BharatNet initiative, which envisages delivering broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats or village blocks and is critical to the government’s ambitious Digital India programme.
Sinha’s new portfolio brings with it the responsibility of the postal department. India Post is among entities that are preparing to start payments banks, through which the Narendra Modi-led government expects to bring large swathes of the rural population under the formal banking system.
Sinha, who is also Minister of State for Railways, took office at a ministry where the stakes are high with the involvement of big industrial houses in the country led by Mukesh and Anil Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Sunil Bharti Mittal, besides global telecom giant Vodafone Group Plc. All these groups have huge interests in the evolving debate on net neutrality as well, which will attract a lot of focus not just within India, but overseas too.
Sinha replaces Ravi Shankar Prasad who has been allotted law and justice in addition to the department of electronics and IT from his previous portfolio. He will still need to take on the call drop issue, which is far from resolved and had even forced intervention from the highest powers in the government.Sinha needs all qualities in his new role for a sector that is heavily regulated and known for the intense business rivalry, which is set to hot up with the imminent entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm.
Relations between the ministry and the industry have become somewhat patchy after the call drop issue put them at loggerheads. The industry’s relations with the sector regulator are also at an all-time low. Sinha takes over as the new telecom minster at a crucial time when the department of telecommunications (DoT) is preparing to hold the next round of spectrum auctions and call drops continue to plague consumers.