As another spectrum scam surfaces, the troubles for the Central Government will only transgress, believes Sanjay Gupta.

Before the Central Government could even get out of the sleazy act of the 2G spectrum scam, it is again hit with another spectrum allocation scam leading to vicious circle of troubles for it. The deal signed by ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation with the private company Devas Multimedia for unbridled usage of S-band spectrum of 70 Mhz for twenty years is not only unprecedented, it also reeks of scandal.

The government might have set up a probe into the deal under former Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi but the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been again put in disarray. Government might even be indicating that the deal will be cancelled but there are bound to be questions about the circumstances under which the spectrum was allocated on throw away prices to Devas Multimedia.

In this context, it is a mere excuse to say that when the pact was signed there was no process of bidding in place because ISRO should have known that millions could be minted by selling spectrum. The controversy regarding the allocation of S-band spectrum has also shown that at the time when telecom sector was being privatized, none had any inkling of how the private entities in the field would be controlled in the future.

It seems the suggestions of regulator TRAI for this purpose were neither enough nor visionary.  Perhaps this is the reason behind the maverick scramble amongst private players to grab spectrum which ultimately led to corruption. The Niira Radia tapes were an illustration of just that.

When the 2G spectrum came to light, the government got engaged in shielding A Raja for some reason. Even Kapil Sibal, who replaced the former after he resigned from the Communications Ministry, was defending the latter. He even trashed the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on the issue but after arrest of Shahid Balwa, the managing director of a private company DB Realty which bought 2G spectrum, it became clear that there had been a scam indeed.

The way the Supreme Court has been exerting pressure on the government to probe the scam, many hidden layers could emerge in the coming days. It is believed that Balwa has links with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. It emerged that DB Realty had paid Rs 200 cr to a DMK-owned TV channel. The opposition did not let the Parliament to function in its winter session and has threatened agitation even in the Budget Session which led to some indications that the government may yield and form a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G scam. There is no doubt whatsoever  that many big names were involved in the scam.

It is estimated that Raja was paid around Rs 3000 crores in bribes to tinker with the deadline of submitting tender for 2G allocation, in order to favour some companies. CAG’s conclusion that the exchequer lost Rs 1,76,000 crores  in revenue due to the 2G spectrum scam is being proved correct. Even the new standards set by TRAI for spectrum allocation suggest that 2G should have been allocated for at least Rs 1,24,000 crore.

Will Sibal still insist that there was zero revenue loss in 2G spectrum allocation? It is difficult tounderstand why he rejected the CAG report and tried to downplay the scam. Had the government admitted to the scam and ordered probe into it, it might have been spared Supreme Court’s rebuke and opposition’s relentless pressure. The situation now is such that the government can not even assure the people that nothing will remain hidden.

Although the apex court has asked the CBI to go after the big names involved in the scam, it would not be a surprise if some of them are yet to be exposed to public. It is not just 2G scam case where in the government is unable to answer the Supreme Court but many more queries have not been answered. For instance, take the case of black money stashed by Indians in banks abroad. The government now seems ready to reveal the names of twenty six people who have put their money in foreign banks, the question that why it didn’t do so earlier has not been answered. The government also seems reluctant in acting against Pune stud farm owner Hassan Ali. It is believed he has stashed around eight billion dollars in Swiss banks and has not paid tax dues of Rs 50,000 crores. He is even suspected to have links with international arms dealer Adnan Khagoshi.

Government’s ambiguous approach in the Hassan Ali case led the Supreme Court to give restraining order against the latter’s going abroad. It also asked for a decision to reveal names of those who have put black money in foreign banks.

Since the time when scams began surrounding the government, it has been trying to throw the opposition off balance by alleging that it is not prompt in taking action against its own corrupt leaders. But it has not made any effort towards fighting corruption together with opposition. While the government may table the Lokpal Bill in the Budget session, its current position proves that it is doing so just to save its face. Incidents of corruption have been occurring in our country every now and then and it seems such acts will continue in future because our political parties are not ready for reforms.

In fact, the way corruption is being encouraged by political parties is shaking the very roots of the country. It is correct that we are on progress but had corruption been controlled, the pace of our development would have been faster and the blot of poverty too would have been washed away. It may be important to get those responsible for various scams behind bars but it is equally important to devise ways so that there may be no scams in the future.

 

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on February 13,2010 translated by the English Editorial)