A mega scam

The raids conducted by the CBI in the department of telecom offices and the case registered against ‘unknown’ officials on the basis of preliminary findings confirm the suspicion about serious irregularities in the award of second generation (2G) licences to telecom operators in 2008. The opposition parties and others had pointed out that the irregularities had cost the government between Rs 40,000 crore and Rs 60,000 crore. Communications minister A Raja, who took the vital decisions, is answerable for the loss. It is inconceivable that senior officials would act without the minister’s clearance on matters that involved thousands of crores of revenue. Violation of norms is clear even for a layman. The licences were given and spectrum allotted to companies some of which did not have the right qualifications. It was done without inviting tenders and strangely on a first-come-first-served basis. Licences were sold for fees that prevailed in 2001 and the entire process was arbitrary and non-transparent. The questionable nature of the entire matter is clear from the fact that two companies which got the licence sold their stake within weeks for many times their investment.

The CBI investigation is on the orders of the Central Vigilance Commissioner who had found that conduct of the DoT was not above board. The minister has defended the DoT action and refused to resign, arguing that the department had followed all procedures laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). This is wrong because the TRAI had actually recommended auctions for selecting licensees. Raja accepted only those recommendations of the TRAI which suited the course he had decided to adopt. In any case it is wrong to blame the TRAI, because the department was not bound by its recommendations. Raja has also tried to shift responsibility by claiming that the decisions had the approval of the prime minister. That is also lame defence.

Raja, who is involved in the scandal, should not have been given the telecom portfolio when the UPA returned to power this year. It was pressure from his party, the DMK, which forced the UPA to award him the portfolio. Now that a case has been registered after preliminary investigations, his continuation in the government is untenable. He has showed no sign of public morality, sense of responsibility or shame. If he does not resign, he should be told to, or sacked. And the CBI should be allowed to complete the investigation independently.

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