ISLAMABAD, Sept 2: The Supreme Court has ordered the government to complete the process of appointing the chairman and three members of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) in 10 days after processing the 165 applications received for the posts.

The telecommunication sector is running virtually without a regulator as the post of its chairman has been vacant since February. The important posts of the authority’s three members have also not been filled and as a result the government’s priority agenda of introducing the third-generation, 3G, cellular phone networks has run into snags.

“This is a question of public right to get the facility of 3G spectrum -- a process that has already been delayed considerably and the country is losing billions since there is no-one to control the grey traffic,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said while heading a three-judge bench on Monday.

The court had taken up a petition of Khurram Shehzad Chughtai, an IT expert, who highlighted the issue and said the government should be directed to complete the process of auctioning 3G spectrum licences within not more than 60 days in a transparent manner and ensure early availability of the services.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had said while presenting the federal budget for this year in the National Assembly on June 12 that the government was expecting to receive Rs120 billion from the proposed sale of 3G licences. The technology operates at a higher frequency and larger channel bandwidth and supports data transfer at up to two megabytes per second.

The court asked a representative of the PTA to submit the schedule for the auction of the licences on Sept 16 after making the appointments.

Deputy Attorney General Irfanul Haq submitted a statement on behalf of the cabinet secretary, saying that although a committee had been formed by the prime minister the appointment process initiated in accordance with an order issued on April 24 by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) was cancelled along with advertisements published on June 14 because a similar petition by a telecom licence holder had been pending before the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The court noted that the license auction had been delayed because of the filing of the petitions in two high courts with almost the same prayer.

The court said it had been held in a case in 1997 that only that high court would be entitled to receive petitions on a subject from whose territorial jurisdiction notifications or government orders had been issued.

The chief justice said only the IHC should have decided the matter where the appointment of the PTA chairman had been challenged.

Advocate Ali Raza, representing the petitioner, informed the court that the government had also removed Information Technology Secretary Kamran Ali Qureshi.

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