When Kapil Sibal took over as telecom minister after the telecom scam broke, he made a stray statement that the licences would be cancelled and the process gone through afresh. Why have we not heard anything on that yet?
The 2G spectrum is something like Ali Baba's cave, isn't it? In the Arabian Nights story, the cave was filled with gold coins and jewels and diamonds and rubies and all that the heart could desire. The 2G cave is filled with something equally precious: telecom licences for the 2G spectrum.
These licences, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, are worth a maximum of Rs1,75,000 crore, a value that, like the jewels in Ali Baba's cave, is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary human mind.
In the Arabian Nights, the cave was the treasure house of the 40 thieves. The 2G scam has its own version of the 40 thieves. Led by a not very imaginative fraudster who was minister for telecommunications, the 40 thieves looted the 2G cave; but they were caught red-handed. Some are in jail, but the big ones have not been touched.
This is one side of the story. The other side, on which few seem to be concentrating, offers hope beyond dreams to the treasury and hence to the common people of India.
The other side of the story is that treasures in the 2G cave still exist as potential wealth that only the Central government can exploit. The method is fairly simple, as simple as saying "open sesame" to open Ali Baba's cave.
The government has to cancel all the licences given by A Raja and his officials and auction the 2G spectrum bands once again. It can be done, there are no legal hurdles. In fact there is a compulsion to do so, because it has been shown that the process under which the licences were given was fraudulent.
When Kapil Sibal took over as telecom minister after the scam broke, he made a stray statement that the licences would be cancelled and the process gone through afresh. Nothing further was said about the matter.
What is the potential income to the country if this is done? The CAG used three methods to calculate what the exchequer would have gained if the proper procedure had been followed.
The first was based on the offer made by S-Tel, one of the applicants for the 2G licence, which was very high and therefore reflected the true value of a licence. Extrapolating the S-Tel bid to cover all the licences on offer, the CAG estimated that potential gain to the exchequer would have been Rs67,364 crore.
The second method was based on the price recovered by the 3G auction. The CAG reasoned that the price of 2G licences should have some relation to 3G. The CAG then came up with the figure of Rs1,76,000 crore.
The third method was based on the fact that some of the companies which got the 2G licences received foreign direct investment (FDI) in the form of equity, shortly after the allocation. The CAG reasoned that this equity came in only because of real value of the allocated spectrum. This can be construed as resale of the spectrum by the licensee and could be a valid basis for calculating the loss to the exchequer.The CAG placed it between Rs57,666 crore (based on Etisalat's investment in Swan Telecom) and Rs69,626 crore (based on Telenor's investment in Unitech).
So, what's stopping telecom minister Kapil Sibal from doing what he said he would do? What's stopping him from cancelling the licences, auctioning the spectrum again? Why doesn't he say "open sesame" and become the man who earns the country Rs1,76,000 crore. Mr Sibal, we hope, is canny enough to realise the political potential of a fresh auction: anyone who earns the country this huge fortune will surely become one of the country's greatest heroes.
But as things stand, it seems we the people have to say "open sesame" with a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
Mr Maran was yesterday charged by the CBI for forcing telecom promoter C Sivasankaran to sell his stake in Aircel
New Delhi: Pushed to the wall after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named him in the 2G spectrum allocation case, textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran today resigned from the Union Cabinet, the second member from the DMK to be indicted in the multi-crore telecom scandal.
Mr Maran, 44, met prime minister Manmohan Singh after a Cabinet meeting and tendered his resignation following a word from DMK party chief M Karunanidhi, according to sources.
His continuation as a minister became untenable after the CBI in its status report on the 2G scam case on Wednesday, charged him with "forcing" Chennai-based telecom promoter C Sivasankaran to sell his stake in Aircel to the Malaysian Maxis group in 2006, during his tenure as telecom minister in the first UPA government, PTI reports.
The prime minister is believed to have had a word with DMK parliamentary party chief TR Baalu this morning and conveyed to him that the DMK party leadership should be apprised of the position that Mr Maran could not continue in the Cabinet. Mr Baalu, who is in Delhi, is understood to have conveyed this to Mr Karunanidhi, who asked Mr Maran to put in his papers.
It was business as usual for the textiles minister this morning, as he attended the Cabinet meeting. But he excused himself for a while, when the issue of licences for FM channels came up. He apparently kept away from the discussion on account of a possible conflict of interest as his brother Kalanidhi operates a media empire that also has FM channels in various languages.
Mr Maran went back home from the Cabinet meeting and subsequently returned to submit his resignation to the prime minister. Dayanidhi is the son of late union minister Murasoli Maran, and a grand nephew of Mr Karunanidhi.
Former telecom minister A Raja, also a DMK party member, resigned in November 2010 after he was indicted by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the telecom scandal. Mr Karunanidhi's daughter and DMK member of parliament Kanimozhi is also in jail along with Mr Raja, charged with involvement in the scam.
'Aadhaar' is a government scheme and has the potential to be the biggest scandal ever that would dwarf all other such swindles that have become public knowledge thus far
Some Bengaluru-based prominent citizens has issued legal notices to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Planning Commission questioning their illegal activities in implementing the UID project, or Aadhaar, without any legal authority to do so.
In a statement, VK Somasekhar, founder trustee of Grahak Shakti and Col (Ret.) Thomas Mathew of Citizens' Action Forum said, "While, politicians of all hues have waxed eloquent on the supremacy of parliamentary procedures in the Lokpal Bill matter, here is a government-sponsored project that is merrily squandering public funds, circumventing Parliament. It is astonishing to see many politicians taking every possible photo-op to have their images splashed in the media, seeking publicity for themselves, by association with this illegal project."
"We believe that Aadhaar is a government scheme which has the potential to be the biggest scandal ever that would dwarf all other such swindles that have become public knowledge thus far. The total cost of the project, variously estimated to be between Rs1.5 lakh crore to Rs15 lakh crore, has been kept under wraps. Neither the Indian government nor the UIDAI would give any figures of cost, except to say that other estimates are exaggerations," the release said.
Already, many voices have been raised against the forceful implementation of the UID project, with most objections focused on concerns over privacy. Moreover, there are issues over the legality of Aadhaar itself. The National Identification Authority of India (NIA) Bill is still pending before Parliament. It seeks to constitute a statutory authority and lay down its powers and functions, besides deciding the framework to issue the UID or Aadhaar numbers. Yet, the Indian government and the UID Authority of India (UIDAI) has gone about implementing the scheme and issuing Aadhaar numbers without any constitutional validity as yet.
According to an expert, the government is the executive not empowered by the Constitution to implement projects spending public money without legislative sanction. "In the case of UIDAI, while the executive may appoint anyone to head it, the government is legally constrained from implementing the project and issuing Aadhaar numbers," the expert said.
The NIA Bill is under the consideration of the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance, headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha and has members from across the political spectrum.
Mr Somasekhar and Mr Thomas said, "While we are questioning only the legality of the actions taken and being carried out by the above parties, there are other serious aspects to this project. Couched as a pro-poor and anti-corruption scheme, it is in reality, a project that would transfer unimaginably large sums of people's money to private coffers. Simultaneously, it would intrude on people's lives in ways hitherto inconceivable. It is an all-encompassing instrument of state surveillance on people."
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