India asks court to clarify telecoms ruling

India cell phone
Image caption India is one of the world's fastest growing markets for mobile telephones, with 800 million connections

India's government has sought clarification from the Supreme Court on its landmark judgement to cancel 122 telecommunications licences awarded to companies in 2008.

These companies have nearly 70 million of the 900 million Indian subscribers.

Last month's judgement said that they would need to transfer to other operators within the next four months.

Now the government says that it will take at least 400 days to complete a fresh auction of licences.

The licences were issued by former minister A Raja, who is accused of mis-selling bandwidth in what has been called India's biggest corruption scandal. Mr Raja, who is currently on trial for fraud, denies wrongdoing.

Government auditors say the scandal cost the country about $40bn (£24.5bn).

The government told the Supreme Court that more than 69 million mobile phone subscribers - 7.5% of total subscribers - could face service disruption as a fresh auction of the licences was not possible by 2 June, the deadline set by the court.

"It is impossible for the government to conduct [an] auction in four months ... We will decide the future course of action after we receive a clarification from the Supreme Court," a telecom official told Hindustan Times newspaper.

Even if these subscribers shift to other mobile operators, the latter will find it difficult to handle the additional traffic given their technical and operational constraints.

The court ruling was a source of further embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which has been hit by several high-profile corruption cases in recent months.

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