The Great Indian Spectrum scam

Published: March 6, 2010 - 16:03 Updated: March 6, 2010 - 16:04

Bizarre intelligence intercepts of telephone conversations of major power brokers are floating around in government and media circles. These intercepts, which many find quite unusual for the use of language as well as the carelessness with which they have bounced between two government agencies, show the exertions of Delhi-based lobbyists in helping out dubious companies to corner valuable spectrum during the 2G auction.

The telephone tapping was done as a response to the demand from the opposition to probe the telecom scam and how the government was short- changed on the sale of spectrum. Phenomenal loss was attributed to the rushed manner in which the spectrum was sold to a clutch of companies with little or no background of telecom on first come first serve basis (FCFS). As the department was held by Congress's ally, DMK, the government seemed chary in taking any action. In the last Parliament, the government had been put on the mat by the Left and BJP. A CBI enquiry was ordered -- phone tapping was its outcome.

While the phone intercepts do not constitute evidence, intelligence sources claim that the reports have been souped out to make it more scandalous then it is. The protagonist of the reports is a lobbyist who seemed to have extraordinary prowess to cosy up to nearly all the telecom licensees, including unknown players like Swan Telecom. Displaying extraordinary prowess, this lobbyist not only helped in clinching the licenses, but also helped move funds from offshore accounts to India. How tainted politicians like Madhu Koda of Jharkhand and others acted at the behest of big players in the mining industry under the persuasive skills of this lobbyist, also shows up in these alleged tapes. Leveraging contacts in media, bureaucracy and business houses, this lobbyist, if the tapes are anything to go by, is the master of the game in the infamous spectrum saga. The moot question is: are these intelligence intercepts genuine?

Many people in the government claim that these papers have been leaked by one of the feuding brothers who have interest in the telecom sector. There are disturbing questions that emerge out of these tapes, if, indeed, they are true. First, the sale of 2G spectrum is under a cloud and it is important that the government completes its investigation before it gets down to the auction of 3G. There are few guarantees that this auction would not benefit those who made a killing last time. A policy such as this would go against the policy of providing level playing field to all the bidders. And more importantly, the government should ascertain whether the intelligence and investigating agencies are truly wilting under the pressure of big money. Yes, or no?

This story is from print issue of HardNews