NEW DELHI:Six-time member of Parliament Jyotiraditya M. Scindia is not new to the telecom ministry. The 53-year-old former investment banker who took charge as the communications minister on Tuesday was previously associated with the ministry from 2007 to 2009.

As part of the new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Scindia said he had ‘tremendous emotional’ ties with the ministry where he served as minister of state for telecommunications, posts, and information technology from 2007 to 2009.

“It is also a little bit like coming full circle for me,” Scindia said soon after taking charge.

Scindia holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and an MBA degree from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. He worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.

During his previous tenure in the ministry, he ushered in Project Arrow, which modernised Indian post offices through new branding and IT-enabled procedures. Acknowledging the ministry’s importance, Scindia said it has a tremendous role to play.

“Both the telecom division as well as the India Post division have a tremendous role to play at a global as well as local stage to enjoin the hearts of millions of people across our country and the world,” he said.

Scindia will take charge as minister for the development of the north eastern region (DoNER) on Wednesday.

Immediate priorities

Previously, Scindia was made minister of civil aviation in July 2021. During his tenure, he encouraged states to reduce value-added tax on aviation turbine fuel, which was one of the highest costs for Indian airlines as compared to their global peers. The number of states and union territories that charged VAT of 1-5% on ATF had risen to 31 from 12 earlier.

In addition, Scindia spearheaded stakeholder discussions on the creation of a global aviation hub in India and addressed issues of congestion at major airports.

Scindia joins the telecom ministry after reforms since 2021 have improved the financial health of the sector and created a level playing field for private and public service providers. 

Among his immediate priorities will be to oversee the upcoming spectrum auctions—already postponed twice due to the Lok Sabha election—and now expected to start on 25 June. The previous spectrum auction had fetched the government a record 1.5 trillion.

Another key focus area for the new minister will be the notification of rules under the new telecom law enacted in December 2023. These rules include the method of allocating spectrum for satellite broadband-based communications, which will be crucial for services in this segment to take off in the country.

Also on his list will be the launch of BSNL’s commercial 4G and 5G services and the ongoing revival of Vodafone Idea, the No. 3 operator. The government is the single largest shareholder in Vodafone Idea and the entity to which it owes the bulk of its 2.1 trillion in debt.

As demand for connectivity rises in India, the total number of telephone subscribers has increased 1.88% to 1.16 billion in March 2024 from 1.14 billion in March 2023, according to the telecom regulator.

The aviation sector benefitted immensely from Scindia’s persistence in convincing states to reduce tax on jet fuel – something that was unthinkable before – and he leaves the aviation sector stronger and resilient, which the telecom sector would also desire.

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Published: 11 Jun 2024, 06:00 PM IST

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