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It's Maran versus Sibal now PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 June 2011 00:00
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Former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran may be right when he says the R600 crore investment by a Maxis group company (Maxis owns the Aircel telecom brand in India) into his brother’s Sun Direct took place when he was no longer a minister, so he can’t really be accused of abusing his official powers. Maran has also denied the allegation made by serial entrepreneur C Sivasankaran that Maran forced him to sell his stake in Aircel to Maxis of Malaysia.

What is, however, uncontestable is Sivasankaran’s other allegation that, under Maran, the telecom ministry ensured Aircel or Dishnet Wireless which it owned, did not get requisite licences/spectrum despite being eligible. While Sivasankaran has made all these allegations to the CBI, you don’t really have to go by what he says, just read the official Justice Patil Committee report. Justice Patil was appointed by telecom minister Kapil Sibal last year, with a remit to go back to see if existing policy had been violated while issuing licences/spectrum by previous governments—the idea was probably to nail the BJP but what emerged was quite the opposite. The NDA, with Arun Shourie as minister, issued 26 licences, the UPA issued 180! This includes the 157 issued by Raja and 23 by Maran. In the process of writing its report, the Justice Patil Committee has lots to say about how the ministry functioned under Maran, about how top bureaucrats went along with him in denying licences to Sivasankaran.

In March and April 2004, Dishnet applied for 10 licences—within a period of 45 days of application, Arun Shourie cleared 7 of these and issued licences to the company. Dishnet and Aircel applied for another 11 licences, taking the total to 21 including the ones cleared by Shourie, but Maran took between 9 and 34 months to clear them. While licences like those for Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (East and West) took over 32 months to be cleared, the licences that were applied for after Maxis took over Aircel (in December 2005) took between 9 and 11 months. All 14 licences cleared by Maran were issued in December 2006 and, a few months later, a Maxis group firm invested R600 crore in Sun Direct.

Here’s what Justice Patil Committee has to say about some of the activities in the ministry under Maran, and the officials named include various telecom secretaries other than just S Behura who is currently in jail for colluding with Raja:

Madhya Pradesh: Before Maran took over on May 27, 2004, a query had been raised (May 5, 2004) on the application. This, Justice Patil said, “was not warranted in terms of notified procedure/guidelines”. After clarifications were given, on July 8, 2004, the proposal was cleared by even the telecom secretary, but on August 24, the PS to Maran wrote to say he had been directed by Maran to seek some more clarifications. According to Justice Patil, “The clarifications sought besides being vague, were also irrelevant for consideration of application for grant of UASLs”. The Patil Committee then lists the officers responsible.

Bihar: In July 2005, Dishnet should have been allotted start-up spectrum, but a series of queries delayed the actual allotment till February 2006. According to Patil, this was “delayed on account of notes put up/queries raised which were not relevant in terms of laid down procedure for consideration of application and allotment”.

Kolkata: By December 2006, however, things had changed for Aircel. In Kolkata, Bharti Airtel had applied for additional spectrum since its subscriber numbers had reached the required levels. The ministry then asked Bharti Airtel for some clarifications, and the next in line, Dishnet!, was given the spectrum even before the clarifications could be given. As Justice Patil puts it, “in terms of FCFS procedure, the application of Bharti Airtel Ltd. for additional spectrum was required to be decided first”. “This was in breach of FCFS criteria.” Once again, the officers involved have been mentioned.

Loss to exchequer: While Maran has issued a press release to say that even the CAG has not said there were any losses to the exchequer as a result of his decision to give Dishnet/Aircel licences in 2006 at prices discovered in the 2001 auction, Justice Patil disagrees. “Between the period 2004 and 2008, if the entry fee was not to be revised to reflect the opportunity cost and when competitive bidding for determining entry fee was not followed; since the matter had financial bearing, before finalization of procedure for grant of licence / allotment of spectrum, concurrence of Ministry of Finance ought to have been taken as per Rule 4 of Government of India (Transaction of Business). This is yet one more deviation from extant policy.”

Maran, by the way, can’t even say he was merely following Shourie’s policy, since 18 months after Shourie ceased to be minister, Maran came out with his own licensing regime—it had 74 sections over 28 pages as compared to Shourie’s 17 sections over 6 pages. If this policy said the 2001 price would be used for issuing new licences, how’s Shourie to be blamed?

If the government should turn a blind eye to all this, and not ask Maran to step down pending investigation, it’s for a good reason. The telecom ministry’s presentation to the JPC on the Raja scam still talks of how Raja was merely following the NDA’s policies!

 

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