BANGALORE, India The vexing matter of increasing the maximum foreign holding percentage in telecoms firms in India from 49 percent now to 74 percent is likely to happen soon, according to a Press Trust of India report based on an interview with India's finance minister P. Chidambaram.
In the report, the minister was quoted saying that "We are resolving the problems, and to use telecom language, it is the last mile (to be cleared)."
Hopes are higher now than at any time previously as the country's communications minister Dayanidhi Maran had also spoken several days earlier of the issue being settled soon.
The matter has been debated for the last four years, with various camps raising demands that higher investments be allowed and others, such as the defense authorities and the Communist parties which are part of the ruling coalition, raising questions of security.
The controversy has persisted despite a ministerial group recommending the increased holding nearly two years ago, and the country's own Department of Telecommunications recommending that even full foreign holding be allowed.
Given the explosive growth in wireless phone services in India, it is generally agreed that the billions of dollars need to ensure the expansion cannot be raised within the country.
A recent industry study by Cris Infac said India's mobile subscriber base will increase five fold, from 33.30 million at 2003-2004 fiscal end to 155 million within five years. Investments of about $16 billion would be needed during this period, the study said.