Down but not out is the word coming from Uninor's managing director Sigve Brekke. Speaking to CNBC-TV18's Malvika Jain, Brekke says he is disappointed by the Supreme Court's verdict but respects the decision.
While he says it is not the end of the road for Uninor’s India operations he does confirm that the company is looking at its legal options, one of them being curative petition.
Below is the edited transcript of his interview. for more.
Q: What were your thoughts on the dismissal of the review petition?
A: We are of course a bit disappointed by that. We felt that we had brought in some new information in our petition that should be looked at but at the same time we respect that process that the Supreme Court looked at it differently.
Q: The SC’s order specifically says that in the garb of review petitions, the companies were seeking rehearing. What do you have to say about that?
A: I don’t want to go into the details on that. We brought forward some new information but the court looked differently on that and I respect that decision. At the same time we are going to continue to follow our legal alternatives, which is probably going for a curative petition and we are also going for other legal alternatives. So we need to secure our interest and do whatever we can.
Q: It is not necessary that the curative petition will be admitted just like the review petition even the curative petition can be dismissed so is there a back-up plan in place?
A: Right now we are doing three things at the same time. One is that we are trying all the legal alternatives that we have. Secondly, we are trying as best as we can to give our views on the future of the auction mechanism. There was an open hearing process we tried yesterday and on the third part, we are also making sure that our operation is continuing and that is why I am in Gujarat today to make sure that we stay focused.
Q: There is also a petition that you have moved in the SC seeking that the auction should be conducted by June 2 that is the date on which the SC’s 2G cancellation order will become operative and your licenses will get quashed. In the absence of any decision on that petition, are you going to stick around until January when the auction according to the government will be concluded?
A: There was a lot of ‘ifs’ in your question and we have to see what the SC says about our application when it comes to changes to the auction before June 2. The government has also filed an application asking for 400 days. So we know how the SC is going to look at that and after that we need to look at what we can do.
Q: Your joint venture partner Unitech has filed a petition invoking the non-compete clause saying you cannot partner with any other company as far as your current licenses with the existing joint venture partners stands, they will get quashed on June 2 until and unless something happens but that is again an ‘if’, so do you think it is the end of the road for Telenor in India?
A: No, absolutely not. Telenor came to India two years ago to stay, we came with a long-term view, we came because we think we could make a difference and that is exactly what we still think. We just need to do whatever we can now to secure our position but also prepare ourselves for the future. So that is the intention.
Q: The company I believe is continuing to make losses. You have not even reached the breakeven point as of now. Can you put a number to the losses? How do you intend to tackle this situation because a nine month period is a long period of uncertainty for any business operations not just for the telecom space or Uninor’s case in particular?
A: I won’t even use the word losses, I would use the word investment. You are right, we are still not at breakeven but we are getting there, we are moving towards a breakeven situation and we hope we can do that within the next year but until we have broken even, we would still invest.
We are a long-term investor and what we are doing now is just focusing on building up our business - 4.2 crore customers, we have a big organization, so we have chosen to stay the course despite all these uncertainties and then make sure that we are continuing to compete that we are continuing to make our customers happy and grow the customer base even more.
Q: To be able to do that practically you will have to be in operation until next year. If this curative petition that you are likely to file is not admitted and the auction is also not conducted until June 2, would you be moving a petition seeking the stay on squashing of licenses?
A: If I should think about all that potential ‘ifs’ I would probably not have time to do anything else than thinking about ‘ifs’. What we are doing now is we are handling the situation as it is today and at the same time focusing on the business. We are moving several things now so we are going back with a curative petition to the Supreme Court and then we have to wait and see how they are going to act.
At the same time we are waiting for their views on our application on ordering the government to finish the auction before June 2 and also the government application. Then we have to take our actions depending on the different movements and different decisions here.
Q: You had also written to the government seeking a refund of the license fee of nearly Rs 1,650 crore which you had paid. I believe in the letter you have mentioned the company has a shortage of funds or something to that effect. Do you think the government will refund the money because it has made it pretty clear that there is no provision to refund licensee?
A: We need to do three things at the same time and we are going to do whatever we can to secure our current position, our current investment. That’s the reason why we are going to Supreme Court. We have also invoked the treaty between Singapore and India. We are asking for a refund of the licenses, we are in dialogues with the government on various issues and we are also preparing ourselves for the future. This is a part of the action plan we have to do whatever we can to try to give our input and try to move this into a situation where we can continue what we came here to do.
Q: Did you receive any response from the Norwegian government or did you tell them to speak to the Government of India after your review petition was dismissed?
A: We haven’t been in contact with the government after that happened yesterday but we are in constant dialogue with the Norwegian government. They have backed us so far, there has been communications between Norwegian government and the Indian government, letters between the two Prime Ministers having a discussion about this and we are also in dialogue with the Indian government and I will say that this is a constructive dialogue that I hope at the end of the day it is also possible to get some solutions.
Q: What has been the response of your employees, distributors, retailers – you are in Ahmedabad today and you have been meeting all of them. Have they been supportive?
A: We are actually doing even better after February 2 when the Supreme Court order came out than what we did before. I am very proud on behalf of all our employees, all our distributors and partners that they have taken all this uncertainty and created new energy out of it. We are staying the course in the market and are doing very well. We are doing exactly the same now as we have been doing in the last two years and that’s the intention and the ambition we have going forward.
READ MORE ON Malvika Jain, Sigve Brekke, Uninor, 2G license cancellation, review petitions, curative petition
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