Following the success of the spectrum auction of 2015, which raked in the highest-ever returns of ₹1.10 lakh crore last year, the Centre is now gearing up for the next round of public sale of airwaves. Though the date for the auctions is yet to be finalised, Union Minister for Communications & IT Ravi Shankar Prasad said it would happen “shortly”, in the next two-three months. In a tete-a-tete with BusinessLine , the Minister said the next round of auctions is likely to see the high quality 700 MHz spectrum for 4G services being put on sale. The Minister, who was in Mumbai to launch various services and schemes of the Department of Posts, BSNL and MTNL, also spoke about how Digital India would be a game changer and of the Prime Minister’s vision to provide governance in the palm of every Indian. Excerpts:

Has there been a decision on the date of the next round of spectrum auctions, and will we see 700 MHz being auctioned this time?

My government has been holding transparent auctions. Earlier, the 2G scandal took place in Sanchar Bhavan, and now those are things of the past. The last auction, which was the most transparent one, fetched the highest returns of ₹1.10 lakh crore. This year also we propose to do the same. What I expect is to put the highest quantity — 2000 MHz of spectrum — on auction this time, and therefore on my part I have done all the policy initiatives such as spectrum trading and sharing, harmonisation, liberalisation and sharing of active and passive infrastructure. Now, let the operators bid for the spectrum through a fair auction. The auction would happen shortly, in the next two-three months.

The 700 MHz would be also put for auction, that’s what I think. The pricing will be determined by TRAI in consultation with us (Telecom Ministry).

What is the status of the semi-conductor policy?

I am only creating an enabling atmosphere for electronic manufacturing. When our government came to power there were only about ₹11,000 crore-odd investments (total investment in electronics manufacturing). Now it’s more than ₹1.20 lakh crore. Electronics manufacturing is emerging as a big sector in India for the world, from mobile phone manufacturing to tablet making, and this will generate jobs.

The country needs a lot more telecom towers to support the fast pace of mobile growth so are we seeing adequate growth on this front?

The private players have put in more than 95,000 towers in the last 7-8 months, while Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has installed about 21,000 and has proposed to add 20,000 more. For proper connectivity, towers and sites are important, but what is more important is that digital delivery is rising in India and to support that, effective services are important.

What about the Digital India initiatives?

Digital India is going to be a game changer and our Prime Minister wants governance to be available in the palm of every Indian. With 27 crore smart phones, which is expected to reach 50 crore in the next 2-3 years, India is poised for a big digital leap. From digital literacy, to digital delivery of services to payment banks and postal connectivity, IT and communications have a big role to play. That’s the larger picture. And projects such as Digital India, Skill India, Make in India, Startup India and Smart Cities all have to work in sync for making India more important.

You had earlier said that post offices will roll out payment banks by March 2017?

     Yes, by March 2017 postal department will start payment bank operations, the architecture is being worked out and it will be game changer in the financial services sector.