Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hit out at the ruling BJP today over the industry-wide hike in tariffs for prepaid mobile internet and call services. In a sharply-worded tweet Mrs Gandhi Vadra reminded the BJP it had frequently boasted of cheap mobile data and widespread usage, and alleged the party had “constantly cut the pockets of the public to benefit rich friends”. She also said its actions had weakened state-run telecom companies like BSNL and MTNL, allowing private providers like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio to make mobile tariffs more expensive.
“BJP had been bragging about making mobile Internet and calls cheaper for the last six years. Now that is gone, like hot air. BJP weakened BSNL, MTNL and opened the way for other companies to make calls and data expensive,” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said, adding, “BJP is constantly cutting the pockets of the public to benefit its rich friends”.
On Sunday Reliance Jio followed Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea in announcing new tariffs for prepaid users; the new plans will see prices increase by as much as 40 per cent. The announcements came after a Supreme Court ruling on adjusted gross revenue (AGR) that said AGR should include dividends, handset sales and rent, in addition to revenue on services.
This meant telecoms now have to pay Rs 92,000 crore in extra revenue.
In response leading providers like Vodafone and Airtel, both of whom reported losses for the quarter ending September 30, warned the government their operations were at risk and that they would be forced to raise tariffs to offset losses.
Last month government agreed to give telecom operations an option to defer payment of spectrum-related installments for next two financial years.
Also last month Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told parliament the centre was serious about making state-owned BSNL “profitable”. A massive Rs 69,000 crore revival package – for BSNL and MTNL, both of whom have repeatedly announced annual losses over the last decade – was approved.
In September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while in the United States for his ‘Howdy, Modi!’ tour, had made a strong pitch to potential investors on the back of the cheap cost of mobile data in India. A March study by a UK-based price comparison website said Indians paid Rs 18 per GB of data against a global average of Rs 600.