How Maran and A. Raja Tried To Frame Pradip Baijal In The 2G Scam
A personal account from one of India’s most accomplished civil servants, Pradip Baijal, who was at the forefront of India’s great telecom revolution.
Regulation under the NDA government
The context and the challenges of the sector are often forgotten when one tries to compare policy decisions across eras. Media pundits and the experts forgot the state of the sector and the economy when comparing policies being adopted by Maran and A. Raja after 2006 versus what had been done in 2003. They also forgot that the old regime could not continue after TRAI’s specific recommendations on these issues in 2005. But these recommendations were not examined and were kept hidden in an almirah while Dayanidhi Maran and A. Raja ensured that business continued as usual.
When the controversies broke, and later became unmanageable in 2010, Raja perhaps had no choice but to state that he was only following Baijal’s policies as recommended by TRAI in 2003. No one challenged him or asked him whether he had considered the subsequent 2005 TRAI recommendations. Maran did the same in 2006, after I left.
The Background to the Conspiracy
We achieved unparalleled growth in the telecom sector after 2003. While we were basking in the encomiums being showered on us from around the world, little was I aware, except some indications given to me in 2006 itself, by the late G.L. Sanghi, a senior Supreme Court advocate who was our lawyer in many TRAI cases, that a conspiracy was being hatched to discredit me and these reforms. . .
The complaints on 2G reforms done by the NDA, the articles written by many journalists, including the article by J. Gopikrishnan on the fraudulent structuring of bidding companies, the letter written by Subramanian Swamy to the prime minister on frauds during spectrum allocation, and the PILs filed by Subramanian Swamy, Prashant Bhushan and others, the agitations by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, the CAG reports and the SITs set up by the Supreme Court in 2010 spread panic in the UPA-II.
They were earlier overconfident that no one could touch them. Since there seemed to be an open-and-shut case against Maran and A. Raja, and also their collaborators in the government, a conspiracy was implemented which could deflect the criticism on to the previous government for the carefully implemented scams after 2006. . .
First, some files of TRAI were removed, leading to an erroneous conclusion in the CAG report, Paragraph 3.1.7, of November 2010:
3.1.7-—The DoT’s action of applying the rates approved for the existing operators for migrating to UAS regime, to new applicants also by relying on the clarification of the Chairman TRAI in his individual capacity was inconsistent with the recommendation of the TRAI (2003) and went beyond the authority given by the Cabinet.
Immediately after tricking the CAG into giving this adverse remark against me, A. Raja on 8 November 2010 filed a false affidavit in the Supreme Court and made public statements saying that all he had done was follow the recommendations given by me in 2003. At this stage, the content of the CAG report had not come out in the press, but obviously Raja was keeping track.
There was urgency to unveil the conspiracy on account of the enormous criticism of 2008’s 2G scam in 2010. The CBI inquiry against me started immediately thereafter, and I received the notice on 22 November 2010. His plea of innocence was that he was misguided by my actions, which were illegal as per the CAG’s report.
The government immediately followed this up with a high-profile CBI inquiry which made repeated headlines in all the newspapers. The case they were trying to present was simple: We did not auction the spectrum and applied the same rates as applied by the previous NDA government to new applicants. Don’t blame us; the real fault, if any, lies with the previous government/TRAI chairman.
This can only be described as a travesty of truth for several reasons. First, TRAI is only a recommendatory body and it is the government which has the powers to accept or reject the recommendations. Thus, the policies were approved by the government, on the basis of TRAI recommendations.
If Raja had said that as a minister, he only followed the policy approved by Arun Shourie, the telecom minister from 2003 to 2004, and the cabinet during the NDA regime, he would have at least been technically correct even if factually inaccurate. Instead, he spoke about following Baijal, which was absolutely fallacious.
The CAG in the paragraph quoted above had said that the Department of Telecommunication’s action relied on the clarification of the chairman, TRAI, in his individual capacity. This was incorrect, and everyone in DoT knew that all decisions in TRAI were taken/ endorsed in the Authority’s meetings.
The crucial file simply went ‘missing’, as did many other files, as explained in a finance ministry note of 25 March 2011 (See Annexure 2). That this omission was not an innocent mistake is clear from the fact that as per regular procedure when the draft CAG report was sent to the DoT for comments, none of its officers pointed out that the paragraph of the draft report was wrong.
The officers were obviously under pressure to stay silent, and did not chose to side with the known truth. That the government can compromise files of DoT and TRAI, sent to the CAG is a serious matter, and should be investigated further for remedial and criminal action. . .
Soon after the CBI inquiry started, I was shown the letter in the CBI office in November 2010. From the trend of questioning, it was clear that they were making a case on the following lines:
a. That I had issued the clarification which the CAG in para 3.1.7 of its 2010 report said I had issued in my individual capacity without requisite ratification as there were no ratification papers.
b. The clarification helped the Tatas.
c. I had joined the Tatas after retirement which proved quid pro quo.
Based on this line of inquiry, the CBI officers confidently asserted that this was an open-and-shut case since they had sufficient material to register an FIR and to arrest me.
I told the investigating officer (IO) that there had to be a file showing the approval of all members of TRAI on the clarification mentioned in the letter. I was shocked when the CBI officers said there were no such files or papers. When I asked the CBI officials to give me access to the files they had with them which supposedly proved their case, they refused. They said that all documents would be provided when the charge sheet was filed, and it would be filed soon.
Flummoxed by the reply, I went through the papers kept by me after retirement. Sure enough, I found two letters and an agenda note that clearly showed TRAI’s approval had been obtained. Here, I must express my gratitude to the former Attorney General Ashok Desai and the UK power regulator, Prof. Stephen Littlechild, who had warned me that if one faced an inquiry after retirement, one would not be given access to any files and papers, and therefore, it was important to prepare for inquisitions during service itself by keeping copies of important papers.
Ashok Desai had also warned me that some of the documents may be removed later. I had taken his advice and kept some important papers. I was fortunate that I did so because in this case, the same happened. . .
Armed with the papers which clearly disproved that I acted in my individual capacity, I marched into the CBI office for a second meeting. When I showed the CBI officials the documents in my possession, I could see that they were extremely disappointed. They obviously had a brief from their ‘masters’.
This time they showed me the files, albeit with great difficulty. I was able to find the same documents, as shown above, in different files and also letters written to the government that the matter was ratified by TRAI. The letters were available in a number of files as it is normal government practice to mark copies of such letters to all concerned.
Thus, any government letter gets attached to different files. The main file continues to be missing even today.
How the Problems Began
My problems as the telecom regulator started when Dayanidhi Maran was appointed the minister for telecommunications in the UPA-I government. I was surprised at his appointment, so were the media and other stakeholders, as it was a clear case of conflict of interest since he was a broadcaster and TRAI had been appointed as a broadcasting regulator in 2004.
I expressed my misgivings to the prime minister but he dismissed these concerns with the argument that there was no conflict since TRAI was an independent regulator, and the I&B and telecom were separate ministries. There obviously was conflict. It was extensively reported in the media that he was running an illegal telephone exchange which benefited Sun TV.
The media often put the question of conflict to me and I had no option but to skip the question since the prime minister had already made a statement on the matter.
I also mentioned to the prime minister that though mobile telephony had achieved phenomenal growth, broadband was not showing similar growth. The growth of broadband required a number of decisions, including early reconsideration and enactment of the Convergence Act or, alternatively, bringing the unified licence and many other measures to be taken by different ministries.
The PM appointed two committees in the PMO: one headed by him and the other, a subordinate committee, headed by the principal secretary to the prime minister. Dayanidhi Maran protested against these committees, and directed his officers not to attend them. He also told me that he was ‘Prime Minister, Telecom’ and would take all decisions on telecom, and that I had no business meeting the prime minister.
I do not know how Maran came to know about our meeting. He warned that I could come to severe harm. He was proved right, since I did face severe hardships four years after my retirement from TRAI.
Consequent to his actions, the committees on broadband in the PM’s office never met. His pressurization techniques also got him out of the scrutiny of the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on spectrum-pricing issues; a time now identified by many as the beginning of Congress’s end. How could pricing issues not be examined by the finance ministry? This was also in violation of the Rules of Business, which the finance ministry raised many times.
Coming back to the Ministry of Finance’s report of 25 March 2011, it conclusively proved that missing files and papers had become a norm in DoT and it is not surprising that the relevant file of 2003 about TRAI’s approval was also found missing. Obviously someone was behind these missing files/papers. I was also aware in 2006, that some relatives of Maran’s personal staff, who were employed in TRAI, were behaving strangely. But with no concrete evidence in hand, I took no action.
What Happened After I Retired
Maran, first, gave additional spectrum to Aircel at old rates in 2006. He then wanted to give spectrum to new companies also at old rates. He had suppressed the January 2005 recommendations. He therefore asked TRAI for recommendations on the number of access providers in each service area and for reviewing the terms and conditions.
TRAI issued its consultation paper on 12 June 2007 and gave recommendations on 28 August 2007. Raja (Maran had been replaced) then asked for applications for more licences, and started giving them, thereby breaking all the rules. He also ignored the price changes which had been suggested by TRAI in Paragraph 2.95 of the 2007 recommendations.
The finance ministry also wanted a clear procedure regarding the revised prices, but this was glossed over. TRAI’s USL recommendations of 2005 were also not taken to the cabinet—as desired by the cabinet in October 2003—or to any other inter-ministerial forum. This led to the great 2G loot.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.