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Sibal sees no evil

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IE reported the dim view that the Supreme Court takes of the 2G Spectrum Scandal:

The Supreme Court effectively closed in on A Raja on Monday when it decided to examine the 2008 spectrum allotment “irregularities” during his tenure as Telecom minister, by issuing notices to the Union government and 11 companies on an NGO’s petition seeking cancellation of the 2G licenses.

Given that Raja’s present successor Kapil Sibal sought to prove late last week that the 2G allotment loss to the nation was zero, a two-judge Bench also said it would ask the government to arrive at the exact figure, if any, but observed it cannot take cognisance of the official auditor’s estimate of Rs1.76 lakh-crore as it did “not form part of the record”.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) became the chief target of the day as Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly hurled a volley of questions over why the government-founded regulator of telecommunications business in the country failed to act when the telecom firms that secured licences in early 2008 failed to roll out the spectrum within a year of it.

The companies that have been issued notice are Etisalat, S-Tel, Uninor, Loop Telecom, Videocon, Allianz Infra, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, Dishnet Wireless and Vodafone-Essar.

In the meanwhile Mr. Kapil Sibal claimed that there was no loss to the exchequer from the 2G Spectrum Scandal. Monecontrol reports a superb interview of Mr. Sibal by Karan Thapar:

Q: At your press conference on Friday the 7th, you said first that the realistic figure for the loss was something slightly over Rs 17,500 crore, but in the very next breath you said there was no loss at all. Which is it, a loss or no loss?

A: You can calculate losses without reference of benefit. In a balance sheet what happens, there is a cost and there is a benefit. In every policy framework there is a cost and there is a benefit. If you look at the benefits to the consumer, they far exceed the revenue loss.

Q: So what is your position? Is there a loss or not?

A: My position is if you don’t take the benefits you can calculate the losses to any extent you want. But if you look at the benefits, there are no losses.

Q: So that is your position if you look at the benefit to the consumer, there is no loss to the public exchequer. I am getting you to clarify this because it’s so important. You are saying if you look at the benefit to the consumer, there is no loss whatsoever to the public exchequer?

A: Absolutely. Let me just extrapolate this a bit. There are three public goods that need to be served through any public policy, right, especially in a commercial area like this. Number one, benefit to the consumer, second, benefit to exchequer and three, the larger social good, in other words the policy of transparency to make sure that the industry is competitive.

So, industrial competitiveness, benefit to the consumer and benefit to the exchequer. If you look at all these three and all these three should lead to public good. In other words you cannot benefit the consumer so much that you destroy the industry; you cannot benefit the exchequer so much that you destroy the consumer.

Q: I just want to reiterate and repeat, your position is that there is no public loss to the exchequer.

A: Absolutely. If you look at it in cost benefit terms, there is no public loss.

Q: If there is no public loss to the exchequer, how do you explain and account for the fact that companies like Swan & Unitech made windfall profits allegedly to the extent of USD 2 billion within weeks of getting the spectrum and without starting operations?

A: Remember, when disinvestment took place in the NDA time and Centaur Hotel was sold and within a month or so it was sold for Rs 30 crore more.

Q: Do you remember the criticism Mr Shourie and BJP faced for that.

A: Whatever.

With that single last word Mr. Sibal expresses the complete rock-bottom apathy of the government towards public good. Caesar’s wife indeed, Mr. Manmohan Singh.

Jan 21, 2011

An ex-lawyer like Sibal should have known better. Now the Supreme Court has come down heavily on Mr. Sibal, as TOI reports:

The Supreme Court on Friday directs CBI to carry out investigation into 2G spectrum scam without being influenced by telecom minister Kapil Sibal’s views.

On Kapil Sibal’s statement that CAG’s estimate of loss in 2G scam was utterly erroneous; the SC said that the minister must behave with some responsibility. His statement will have no bearing on CBI investigations.

On CAG report, the Court said that minister’s statement that no loss happened was very unfortunate.

The SC also issues notice to all 11 telecom firms who got spectrum during A Raja’s tenure on Subramanian Swamy’s petition seeking cancellation of all irregular mobile licences. On Swamy’s plea for restraining the telecom ministry from accepting the fines to condone mobile licence agreement violations by companies, the SC said it will consider it [once] Swamy makes a written plea.

ET reported:

On a day when the PAC took its battle against Kapil Sibal to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, asking her to take “prompt” and “effective” steps to stop the commission of “constitutional impropriety” by ministers, the Supreme Court added to the telecom minister’s woes by describing his attack on the CAG “unfortunate” , and asked him to behave “responsibly” .

The court expressed displeasure over Sibal’s statement after petitioner Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy said the minister’s actions may influence the SC-monitored CBI probe. Faced with the combined onslaught of the SC and the PAC, Sibal said he had never intended to show “disrespect” to any institution.

“This (public response to CAG) meant no disrespect to any institution. Neither directly nor indirectly was it an attempt to interfere with any process going on in government or in the investigation agencies ,” Sibal said. Referring to Parliament’s washed-out winter session due to resistance from the Opposition, Sibal said the government had been left with no option. “I think it is the duty of the government, if it has no access to any forum, to at least place its point of view before the public.”

“I am fully aware of my responsibilities, my obligations, my duties not only as a minister but also as a citizen of this country ,” Sibal said but added that “canards” being spread on the report had to be responded . Sibal, at the same time, took a dig at the Opposition and cited the letter written in 2002 by the then defence minister George Fernandes, while responding to the CAG report on the Kargil aluminium casket scam. “He had sent copies of an article written on the issue by journalist RV Pandit to all the MPs, with a note written at the end — what happens to the country when the culprit is the CAG,” the telecom minister pointed out.

As a natural corollary, the court on Friday directed the CBI to go ahead with the probe into the scam without getting influenced by any body’s statement.

Jan 23, 2011

The obvious next step followed. TOI reports:

A special CBI judge on Saturday summoned comptroller and auditor general (CAG) Vinod Rai and a senior audit official to depose as witnesses in a case seeking prosecution of former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G spectrum scam, auguring more trouble for the Centre.

The CAG will be asked about its report that said 2G mobile spectrum was sold cheap in 2008 to ineligible firms, resulting in presumptive losses adding up to Rs 1.76 lakh crore. This is the basis of former MP Subramanian Swamy’s petition against Raja.

CAG’s findings have been vigorously challenged by the government which says the loss estimates are incorrect and that there is nothing amiss in the first-come-first-served policy under which licences were issued to telecom operators. The CAG now can place its arguments in court.

“We have not received the document. After we receive it, we will decide how to go about it,” a CAG spokesperson was quoted as saying in an agency report. The Supreme Court is already monitoring a CBI probe into spectrum allocation.

While the government is probing irregularities in allocation, it is contesting CAG’s loss estimate which implies a failure of oversight.

Jan 30, 2011

The Hindu reports the government’s latest efforts to right the laws:

Scarce spectrum would not be offered free of cost and all operators would have to obtain radio waves through a market-driven process, Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said here on Saturday. He, however, clarified that the new operators who got licences in 2008 would be asked to pay beyond 4.4 MHz start-up spectrum, while the incumbent service providers would have to pay beyond 6.2 MHz radio waves.

Giving the broad contours of the new telecom policy being framed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Mr. Sibal said: “In future, the spectrum will not be bundled with licence… there will be no concept of contracted spectrum and, therefore, no concept of initial or start-up spectrum. Spectrum will be made available only through a market-driven process.”

At present, 4.4 MHz of 2G spectrum comes bundled with a licence, while the operator is entitled to an additional 1.8 MHz after he achieves a certain number of subscribers in a telecom circle. The pan-India 2G licence fee as per the existing policy is Rs.1,658 crore.

“As per the proposed policy, the licence to be issued to telecom operators will be in the nature of ‘unified licence’ and the licence holder will be free to offer any of the multifarious telecom services. However, if a licence holder wants to offer wireless services, he would have to obtain spectrum through a market-driven process,” Mr. Sibal explained.

Jan 31, 2011

CNN-IBN reports:

The one-man committee of Justice Shivraj Patil, looking into the 2G spectrum scam has named former telecom minister A Raja for procedural lapses. Former Department of Telecom secretary Sidhartha Behura has also been named in the report along with RK Chandolia, former personal secretary to Raja.
The report, which was submitted by Justice Patil to Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal on Monday, also names seven Department of Telecom officers along with Raja.

The Committee was set up by Kapil Sibal to investigate into the 2G spectrum scam and to investigate allegations against Raja and whether telecom policies were flouted to benefit a few service providers.

Feb 2, 2011

BS reports:

One terse sentence brought a chapter of the 2G spectrum scam to an end at 3 pm this afternoon. An officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja, “Mr Raja, you are under arrest,” after four hours of questioning for the fourth time this month.

Raja’s arrest followed the interrogation of his brother, A K Perumal, about the funding of some front organisations owned by telecom companies, which had been issued 2G licences between October 2007 and January 2008.

Raja’s former personal secretary, R K Chandolia, and former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura were also arrested for allegedly abusing their official positions and manipulating tendering procedures to benefit certain telecom companies.

As Raja belongs to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), an ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and contributes 18 MPs out of 40 from Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry, there had been some misgivings in the government that the arrest could impact its stability. The UPA has 259 MPs in a House of 543. If the DMK were to walk out of the government in protest against the arrest of one its MPs, the UPA would slip into a minority.

However, immediately after news of the arrest, DMK chief M Karunanidhi went into a meeting on tenders for the free TV scheme that the state government has launched and barred reporters from the venue. Karunanidhi’s alder son, Azhagiri, who has been critical of the role played by Raja, told associates that he had suggested to his father that Raja be suspended from the party. In response, Raja had been removed from his post as propaganda secretary. But there was no reaction from the party — not even mild condemnation of the Centre’s move.


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  1. […] see Mr. Manmohan Singh trying to associate himself with one of the good things in telecom after the mother of all scams. Clearly the steps were taken in a hurry, with a view towards good publicity, since the regulatory […]

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