Monday, November 15, 2010

'2G Spectrum scam is a white caller crime'

Raja, Telecom Minister finally yielded to all the pressure and stepped down from his chair. However the big question is whether this enough to draw the curtains on one of biggest scams India has witnessed so far.

Back in 2007, member of Parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekharraised the issue and questioned the Government’s decision to allot 2G Spectrum without calling for tenders. Chandrashekhar had warned the Prime Minister about the non transparent methods of Telecom Minister A Raja and the scam that was brewing. He also wrote to all political parties to create a consensus on the issue.

In this interview with he says that his early warning signals of a scam in the making were ignored by the Prime Minister.

You had written to the Prime Minister about this scam two years back. What was his response at that point of time?

I have been raising this issue of irregularities in Telecom sector as an MP from mid 2007 onwards and have raised the issues in several letters and Parliamentary interventions. Earlier as an entrepreneur I fought the WLL scam in 2001. In my letter to the Prime Minister on November 14th 2007, I reiterated that spectrum allocation process must pass the twin tests of public interest and transparency and questioned why the license award or Spectrum award process were not following a tender process – a route adopted to all previous licenses as well FM licenses. The Prime Minister responded with a letter saying he will examine the issue.

Since writing the letter and till date, do you feel that the Prime Minister has acted on this issue?

While I do know that Prime Minister took cognisance of my letter and the issues I raised, I can't answer that question because it’s not clear to the country if he did. The reality is that the Telecom Minister, A Raja, his meek bureaucrats and the silent Independent Regulator together - went ahead with allocation of spectrum throwing all norms to the wind and caused enormous loss country’s exchequer and people of India.

What do you feel about the overall handling of this issue by the Government?

The fact is that this is a swindle - a white collar crime. There are clear and obvious beneficiaries of this crime/swindle. As with any crime, the government must determine the persons involved - big and small- and prosecute and punish them under law. So far there's no tangible sign that government will do so for this swindle.

You pointed out that some corporates may get away? Has this happened?

The reality is that in scams/swindles like this for every minister and bureaucrat there is a group of corporates/businessmen involved in such crimes. Any Government that values its duty towards its people , is duty bound to recover swindled money from the beneficiary corporates by way of additional licenses feed and levies. However, the track record of governments to take action - against corporates that have broken law - is very poor in India. In telecom alone there are many cases of blatant legal violations that remain unprosecuted and violators walk away scot free.

Could you name the corporates who flouted norms in this scam?

I need not name them - almost all existing telecom operators - old and new have benefitted from spectrum without auctions and therefore have participated in the fraud on the Indian people.

First the Maharashtra Chief Minister then Suresh Kalmadi and then Raja. Do you feel this is India’s most corrupt government till date?

Unfortunately there isn't any ranking of corruption or index. But there is general perception and understanding that crony capitalism has grown at an unprecedented rate in our country. As Raghuram Rajan, IMF chief economist and University of Chicago Professor said recently - most of India’s Billionaires have acquired their wealth due to proximity to politics or politicians. Our current economic model has two curses - large govt spending budgets and wide discretionary powers with ministers - both these are designed to foster corruption and indeed they do. The people of India are getting a raw deal because of Government corruption - both in central and state governments.

How did you get know about the making of this scam?

The telecom sector has always been notorious for its scams - with ministers like Sukhram, Pramod Mahajan and now Raja – it’s been a sector where dubious decisions and brazen corruption have always ruled. One of the primary reasons I joined politics was my experiences of over a decade as a telecom entrepreneur and most recently in 2001-2003 with minister Pramod Mahajan and regulator Pradeep Baijal and the WLL and the international call scams. Which I why I wrote to the Prime Minister way back in 2007 warning the Telecom Minister’s decision is totally flawed and needs to be changed. Given the seriousness of the implications of Minister’s decision on the resources that belong to people our country, I wrote to all political parties to create a consensus on the issue. However, my early warning signals of brewing scam were ignored by the Prime Minister and the Governement. The results are there for everybody to see.

Did you know that it was to this extent in terms of the money involved in it?

It was always clear that loss to people of India were high as I outlined in my recent letter to PM in May 2010 after the 3G auctions. But I am proud of Vinod Rai, our CAG and his team who have fearlessly laid out the exact loss - and people of India should stand up and understand that this is all their money that's been handed over to some businessmen.

Was the government worried about losing its coalition partner and hence went soft on Raja?

Governments are custodians of public trust and interest. For those in politics who have a genuine interest in doing good by the people they serve - the priority should be to serve the peoples interest and not cling shamelessly to power. The Nation and people are first - way above selfish and narrow political interests.

Is punishing a Raja sufficient? What according to you should the government do to address this humongous scam?

Everybody is presumed to be innocent till a process of law finds them guilty. A crime of this magnitude - leading to the loss Rs. 1,70,000 Crores to the exchequer – cannot take place without the collusion between bureaucrats, independent regulators and corporates acting as partners to the crime. Therefore, if the Government is serious about taking action , they must launch an independent investigation to identify all the culprits, make the investigation report public and take exemplary action the guilty. Also, action must be initiated to recover the swindled money from the beneficiaries of the swindle.

What role should the courts play in this issue and should the government press for the prosecution of all those involved and move the court instead of taking matters on its head?

Courts will have a role to play only after the Government launches an investigation, nails the culprits and bring them to justice. What can Courts do if the Government is refusing to take cognisance of the crime much less taking action against the guilty ?

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