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May 15, 2012, 11.35 AM IST
Rahul Khullar, who served as the commerce secretary for the past three years, today assumed charge as the chairman of TRAI, after completing formalities of leaving the IAS voluntarily.
Here's what lies ahead for him.
Rahul Khullar is a doctorate in economics, fluent in Malayalam, has been India’s chief negotiator at the World Trade Organisation. Well regarded as a tough, uncompromising bureaucrat of considerable intellectual merit, Khullar has since 2004 spent all his time at the commerce ministry barring a surprisingly short six month stint as disinvestment secretary in 2009. But will the new job test this skilled negotiator?
Observers believe that Khullar was handpicked by his former boss and now prime minister Manmohan Singh to handle this sensitive post. But the question is what can he do?
Commenting after taking over charge at TRAI's Minto-Road office in Delhi, Khullar says, "It is a very onerous responsibility. I hope that I am able to make a good job of it."
And even as the incumbent commerce secretary gets ready for a new innings, names of IAS officers who could replace him are already doing the rounds.
Khullar, who has never had anything to do with telecom policy making, will get some breathing space to figure out his new charge. This as his predecessor Dr JS Sarma burnt the midnight oil this past few months to recommend a framework whose legacy will last for at least three years - the exact duration of Khullar's term. Sarma's controversial recommendations on the spectrum auction, which he stuck to till his last day in office, will now be taken up by the government and cannot be referred back once again for Khullar's imprint.
There are two upcoming tasks listed fix port interconnection charges and network failure norms for him in June and beyond. Even broadcast regulation, a very key part of TRAI's mandate, has seen Sarma clear as many as 10 crucial subjects since January 2010.
The big challenge therefore for Khullar in the coming months will be to address rising call tariffs, an inevitability set in motion by his predecessor, under the pressure of a Supreme Court order and left unaddressed by a nervous government. The TRAI has absolute powers over call tariffs and has a clear mandate to protect consumer interest.
No TRAI chairman in the past has ever invoked his power to direct call tariffs. The question is: Will Khullar bite the bullet? And if he does, how will he be able to reconcile this with the financial health of a once sunrise sector?
DIPP secretary Saurabh Chandra and his UP cadre comrade AK Mishra are in the race for the post. But some insiders believe that Himachal cadre IAS officer Sutanu Behura could emerge as the top contender for the top job at commerce ministry.
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