New Delhi : The government has shortlisted seven candidates, mostly senior bureaucrats, for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman’s post, which falls vacant after Rahul Khullar’s retirement by end of the day (13th May).
“Seven candidates have been interviewed — including five central secretaries — by the search committee headed by cabinet secretary Ajit Seth last week,” a government official said on conditions of anonymity. In all, 77 aspirants had applied for the position of TRAI Chairman.
This official said shortlisted candidates include Information Technology secretary Ram Sevak Sharma, Information & Broadcasting secretary Bimal Julka, Commerce Secretary Rajeev Kher, Defence Secretary RK Mathur, Steel Secretary Rakesh Singh and former Telecom Secretary MF Farooqui as the successor of the TRAI Chairman post.
“Sharma is seen as the frontrunner. Other potential contenders include Julka, Kher and Farooqui,” another official aware of the selection process said. The final decision will be taken by the PMO. PK Mishra, additional secretary in the PMO, is part of the search committee which also includes telecom secretary Rakesh Garg.
“The government will have to act fast on this appointment as it would not want the regulatory body to remain headless for a long period, given the fact that a lot of critical issues pertaining to the telecom sector are unresolved,” said the first official.
The TRAI Act requires the telecom department to seek the regulator’s recommendations on each issue. “Even though the Authority can send its recommendations without a chairman, practically, speaking the Authority doesn’t make recommendations without a chairman, at least on important issues,” the official added.
One of the new TRAI Chairman’s first tasks would be to submit the regulator’s recommendations of the controversial net neutrality issue. The authority had initiated the consultation paper on the issue and has completed the process of accumulating the views of all stakeholders.
Telecom industry observers believe Sharma has the best shot of becoming the next TRAI chairman. A 1978 batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer, who doubles up as a techie and code writer, the information technology secretary is known to be a quick decision-maker who is driving key policies linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India and local electronics manufacturing initiatives.
Sharma also championed Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric database, alongside Infosys co-founder and former Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani.
Khullar, a former commerce secretary, who retires on May 13, had assumed the reins at TRAI back in May 2012 when India’s telecoms industry was embroiled in corruption allegations and regulatory uncertainty in the aftermath of the 2G spectrum scam.
He had also stepped into the hot seat at a time when the sector regulator was under attack from mobile carriers for pegging the starting price of spectrum at 10 times what was paid in 2008.