M A I N   N E W S

Retired SC Judge to probe 2G scam
Telecom policies followed by governments since 2001 under scanner
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 9
The government has asked a retired Supreme Court judge to look into the telecom policies followed by different governments since 2001.

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said the inquiry by retired judge Shivraj Patil will be completed within four weeks. It will examine instances where procedure was not followed, as well as any lack of transparency.

Sibal said that the SC is already examining criminal culpability for the humongous 2G scam - estimated to be worth Rs. 1.76 lakh crore by the government's auditor.

Earlier in the morning he said that the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) is likely to send out notices to the errant telecom firms by the end of this week.

The move comes within days of the new Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal admitting that there had been 119 instances of rollout delays by the telecom firms in the country and that they would be sent notices.

Sibal speaking to reporters here on a sidelines of an industry function said that the telcos would be sent notices by the end of the week.

He had also said that notices would be sent to five companies that were given 85 telecoms licences in 2008, asking why their licences should not be cancelled after the government auditor found the firms were not eligible for them.

Government has been facing the Supreme Court and a combined opposition ire on the allocation of the 2G spectrum in 2008 by then Telecommunications Minister A. Raja, which according to country’s highest audit body CAG led to a loss of Rs 1.76 lak crore to the national exchequer.

Sibal also promised a level playing field for all telecom operators, saying he wanted growth in the sector and not politics.

“We will ensure a level playing field for all telecom operators,” Sibal said. His response came to questions on the opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged 2G spectrum scam.

While the opposition has been seeking a JPC probe leading to the stalling of proceedings in Parliament now for 20 days, the government has ruled out a JPC probe saying the issue could be debated on the house.

“They (BJP) are looking at the (general) elections (in 2014). They are not concerned about the telecom sector,” Sibal added.

He also termed as “unfortunate” the war of words between operators and cautioned that such practices were not healthy for the growth of the sector.

Asked to comment on operators accusing each other for being favoured by the government in spectrum allocation, he said such discourses in the public domain should be avoided.“What I find today is very unfortunate, some operators are at war with others. This is because at any given point of time they felt that they had been discriminated against,” he said.

When asked about Tata Sons Chairman Ratan Tata accusing BJP-led NDA regime for policy flip-flops in telecom sector Sibal said: “I guess he (Ratan Tata) must be making that statement with some kind of knowledge and information. I cannot comment on that.”




Tata hits out at GSM operators, BJP
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 9
The war of words among the country’s telecom giants over “irregularities” in 2G Spectrum allocation took a political turn today with Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata alleging that Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s statements stemmed from his political affiliations.

In response to Chandrasekhar’s open letter, Tata shot back an open letter to the former telecom entrepreneur in which he said, “Your affiliation to a particular political party is well-known and it appears that political aspirations and their endeavour to embarrass the Prime Minister and the ruling party may well have been the motivation behind your letter.”

The Congress and the BJP also jumped into the ring, lending further political colour to the situation. Tata’s open support for the UPA Government is also being seen as a bombshell lobbed into the BJP camp. The war of words escalated two days ago after Airtel and Idea accused Tata Teleservices of inflating their subscriber base. The accusation was based on a report brought out by telecom sector regulator TRAI. The response from Bharti and Idea came after Vodafone Essar had already shot down the accusations from Tata. Adding fuel to the fire was Chandrasekhar’s letter accusing Tata Teleservices and his company of adopting double standards. Chandrasekhar had hit out at Tata Teleservices for not being transparent and being one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government telecom policy.

In response to Tata’s letter, Chandrasekhar again said, “Corporate houses are increasingly influencing public policies. There is a huge gap between what these companies say and what they do.”

While coming out strongly in support of the government’s 2G allocation policy which broke the powerful cartel, Tata said he backed the probe covering the period since 2001 when the BJP-led NDA was in power. He also hit out at BJP saying “many of the flip-flops in the telecom policy occurred during the BJP regime”.

Chandrasekhar had also accused Tata Teleservices of causing a loss of over Rs 19,000 crore to the exchequer following allocation of spectrum in 2008. Tata said that former Telecom Minister A. Raja, or for that matter any minister, had not extended any advantage to his firm. He further noted that the Comptroller and Auditor General had not ascribed any value to 48 new GSM licences issued to incumbents during 2004-2008 and 65 Mhz of additional spectrum.

Reacting to the charge, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, “Ratan Tata is not a judge, he may not be aware of all the facts. It is a fact that the telecom revolution started during our government.”

The Congress, meanwhile, turned the heat on the NDA over the spectrum policy and brought its telecom ministers in the line of fire. Having got a foothold in the controversy after the Supreme Court yesterday sought to widen the scope of the investigations in the spectrum scam, the Congress hit back strongly at BJP. “Is it not a fact that in July 1999 after the Kargil War the telecom portfolio was taken from Jagmohan by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a loss of Rs 60,000 crore to the exchequer? On January 31, 2001, Pramod Mahajan distributed spectrum almost free of cost to the telecom companies,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari.





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