“Many of the flip-flops in the telecom policy occurred during the BJP regime”
The 2G scam on Thursday triggered a corporate war with industrialist Ratan Tata hitting out at the policies of the BJP-led NDA government, and Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who had alleged that the Tatas were one of the biggest beneficiaries of the spectrum allocation.
Accusing certain GSM operators, represented by the Cellular Operators Association of India, and journalists of trying to subvert policies to suit their interests, Mr. Tata said many of the flip-flops in the telecom policy occurred during the BJP regime.
Stating that the licence policy of 2008 helped to break the powerful cartel, Mr. Tata demanded that the 2G spectrum allocation since 2001, a period that included the BJP-led NDA regime, be probed.
Reacting to an open letter by Mr. Chandrasekhar, a former president of COAI and independent MP supported by the BJP-JD(S), Mr. Tata said the recent policy (2G spectrum allocation in 2008) broke the powerful cartel that had been holding back competition and delaying implementation of policies.
It was in 2008 that Tata's telecom arm, TTSL — a key player in CDMA space — entered the GSM platform dominated by big names such as Airtel and Vodafone.
Rebutting the charges, Mr. Chandrasekhar, an erstwhile telecom entrepreneur, hit back, saying that Mr. Tata was trying to divert the issue — which is the gap between the group's claim on probity and conduct of its telecom venture TTSL.
He alleged that the Tata company was one of the biggest beneficiaries of spectrum policies, contrary to all its claims of fair play and transparency.
Amid the trading of charges between corporate executives and leading telecom players, the government on Thursday announced setting up a one-man panel to look into the spectrum allocation procedures and policies followed between 2001 and 2009.
The decision to set up the inquiry by the retired Supreme Court judge, Shivraj Patil, comes a day after the court asked the government to widen the ambit of the CBI probe into the 2G spectrum scam to cover the NDA regime when the first come, first served policy was first introduced.
Mr. Tata's charge that “many of the flip-flops in the telecom policy occurred during the BJP regime” drew sharp reaction from the party, which said the industrialist was “no judge” and his views would not be given much importance as he himself was a “beneficiary” of the UPA's telecom policy.
Mr. Tata alleged that the switchover from auction to revenue sharing system for telecom operators during the BJP regime could have caused a loss of Rs. 50,000 crore going by the parameters adopted by government auditor, CAG, in examining 2G spectrum allocation.
On Mr. Chandrasekhar's allegation that group company Tata Teleservices (TTSL) was a beneficiary of an out-of-turn allocation of spectrum, Mr. Tata said the true position was that TTSL had not, “I repeat not” been advantaged in any way by A. Raja or any previous Minister.
Using Mr. Tata's statement, the Congress attacked the BJP, saying it was shying from a debate on the 2G spectrum issue as its top leadership was involved in taking “wrong” decisions, when the NDA was in power, which led to a loss of Rs. 60,000 crore to the government.
“Is it not a fact that in July 1999 immediately after the Kargil war the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, took the communication portfolio from Jagmohan and helped the Telecom companies, which resulted in a loss of Rs. 60,000 crore to the country,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari asked.
Niira Radia, who is in the eye of the storm over leaked taped conversations, was engaged by the Tata group to counter a media campaign against it by an “unholy nexus” between certain corporates and journalists.
As Tatas did not enjoy any “captive” connection to counter such media campaign, the group chief, who had earlier gone to the Supreme Court seeking a probe into leakage of tapes containing his conversation with Ms. Radia and also a ban on further publication of the same, said that the Radia-led Vaishnavi was engaged to counter vested interests.
Tata's views came amid the uproar over Ms. Radia's alleged nexus with corporate, politicians and journalists and the ongoing litigation on the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
Countering Mr. Chandrasekhar's charges levelled against him and the Tata Group, Mr. Tata asked why Mr. Chandrasekhar himself was trying to influence politicians and solicit support from selected corporates.
“You and many others have focused your attention on Ms. Radia as a corporate lobbyist,” Mr. Tata said while questioning Mr. Chandrasekhar's role in trying to prevent the entry of limited mobility and CDMA mobile service.