Maran has no option, quits

Written by Rishi Raj | Updated: Jul 8 2011, 09:09am hrs
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On Thursday, it was deja vu for Dayanidhi Maran, forced to quit the Union Cabinet mid-way for the second time. While it was a family feud that cost him the telecom ministry job in 2007, it was a CBI discovery that he had forced the sale of mobile operator Aircel to Maxis benefiting his brothers company that ejected him from the textile ministry four years later.

In his second Cabinet stint as textile minister facilitated by a patch-up with DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi everything seemed to be going smoothly for Maran. With his successor A Raja indicted in the spectrum scam, Maran was in a position where he could claim that the telecom mess wouldnt have happened if he were not replaced by Raja in Sanchar Bhawan. However, the script went awry with Cabinet colleague Kapil Sibal, who replaced Raja as telecom minister in November 2010, deciding to handle the fallout of the 2G scam politically.

Sibal, in his new role, felt that Raja had never politically countered charges of the 2G scam. In an attempt to show that even telecom ministers in the NDA regime had committed improprieties, he ordered a departmental inquiry under retired Justice Shivraj Patil. And it is the Patil committee report that led to Marans downfall.

Former Aircel owner C Sivasankaran said that he was forced to sell his company to Malaysias Maxis in December 2006 since Maran delayed mobile licences for his company since 2004. The licences, though, were granted within six months of Aircels sale to Maxis. The charges stuck because Astro, an associate company of Maxis, bought a stake in Sun

Direct owned by Dayanidhis brother Kalanithi Maran.

It was the Patil committee that unearthed Marans irregularities at the ministry, emboldened by which Siva came out in the open and testified before the CBI. It is an open secret that Maran and Siva never got along well and with the latter moving closer to Tata Group, Maran started gunning for the Tatas as well. This explains Ratan Tatas support for Raja as telecom minister.

Aircel and Tatas were not the only bugbears for Maran. He was the one who came out with guidelines for granting new licences on December 14, 2005. In doing this, he never sought Trais recommendation, in itself an impropriety. Further, he granted 27 licences without auctions, a move which has the potential to boomerang on him as the telecom probe widens.

In fact, the foundations of the 2G scam were laid by Maran. It was he as telecom minister in April 2007 who sent the reference to Trai seeking its recommendations on whether the government should cap the number of service providers in each circle.

A month later, Maran left the ministry, but the Trai recommendations prescribing a no-cap policy in August that year helped his successor Raja commit the spectrum scam. It can be argued today that had Maran not sought the capping recommendation from Trai, there would have been no scam, at least in January 2008. Even the dual technology licence applications by Reliance Communications, Shyam and HFCL were received during Marans time and he had sought Trais views on the issue.

In 2006, it was Maran who removed spectrum pricing from the agenda of a GoM formed on vacation of spectrum.

Controversies apart, Maran's tenure as telecom minister from May 2004 to April 2007 saw some of the highs in Indias telecom sector. His tenure saw the FDI limit in telecom being raised from 49% to 74%, leading to a golden period for the telecom sector which saw the entry of Vodafone in February 2007. Maran was also instrumental in bringing investments into his state Tamil Nadu with Nokia setting up a factory there. He also cut the licence fee to a uniform R2.5 crore from R100 crore for national long distance and R25 crore for international long distance. This led to a steep decline in long-distance tariffs as the reduction saw the number of long-distance operators increasing from 4 to 40.

Maran also helped bring down average call rates with BSNL's OneIndia scheme in 2006. This brought parity in local and STD call rates.

On balance, the difference between Raja and Maran is that the former courted controversy within a month of assuming office as telecom minister. Maran managed to get good press while in office.