RAJA, 2 FORMER AIDES ARRESTED

Written by Rishi Raj | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 3 2011, 14:50pm hrs
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Fourteen years after another ex-telecom minister Sukh Ram was arrested following another scam, it was A Rajas turn on Wednesday to submit to the law of the land: With the Supreme Court monitoring the case and the CBI required to file its first progress report on February 10, the investigating agency arrested three key architects of the 2G spectrum scam Raja, his former private secretary RK Chandolia and former DoT secretary Siddharth Behura.

All three were arrested under Sections 120 B, 13 (2), 13 (ID) of the Prevention of Corruption Act on charges of criminal misconduct, violation of policies and favouring some specific companies in the grant of telecom licences in January 2008. Sources said that in the next few days, key officials of some of the private companies which gained from Rajas largesse could also be arrested. Swan Telecom (now Etisalat) and Unitech Wireless (now Uninor) were the two companies which benefited the most from the first-come-first-served policy, which was tweaked by Raja to ensure that the ones who paid the licence amount first would get the bundled spectrum first.

Raja is the only former Cabinet minister to be arrested after Sukh Rams arrest on September 18, 1996.

Based on the facts disclosed so far during the investigations regarding their role in the allocation of the letter of intent and resultant unified access services licences and spectrum to certain companies ahead of others, the CBI has today arrested the then telecom minister, the then telecom secretary and the then private secretary to the minister, a brief statement issued by the CBI said.

Sources said the arrests came after former telecom secretary DS Mathur deposed before the CBI detailing how he differed with Raja in the grant of new licences and how the minister was determined to go ahead and award the licences on the terms and conditions which suited him. Mathur had subsequently refused to sign the files relating to the licences. FE was the first to report Mathurs on-record version in its edition dated November 13, 2010. Raja resigned from the Cabinet a day after the report was published.

Around the same time, Behura in his defence had told FE that he had merely implemented the ministers decision which was taken before he became telecom secretary on January 1, 2008.

The clamour for Rajas head rose to a crescendo with the tabling of CAGs damning report, which estimated presumptive losses from the scam at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The report which had leaked earlier to the press was finally placed in Parliament on November 16, 2010. The entire Winter Session of the Parliament was blocked by the Opposition demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe into the scam. When he became communications minister in May 2007, he called me and expressed his desire to award around 500 new licences, Mathur had told FE.

My response was that the same was not possible as there was not much of spectrum and if such a large number of licences were given, it would raise a big question mark on whether spectrum needs of the existing operators could be met or not and whether new licencees could be given spectrum. I even told him that in the event licences are given and the government fails to give spectrum, companies could move court, Mathur had said. He had subsequently refused to sign any files on the new licences and the matter rested till December 2007 when he retired. Behura joined as new DoT secretary on January 1, 2008. On January 10, nine companies received letters of intent.

The arrest of Raja and his former officials also proves that the CBI started acting seriously on the case once the Supreme Court started monitoring it. Prior to it, though the FIR was registered on October 22, 2010, the agency dragged its feet for about a year. This is the reason that the opposition parties have been unimpressed with the CBI action describing it as too little, too late. They made it clear that they would not budge from their demand for a JPC probe into scam.