Irregularities, if any, can be looked into JPC: Congress
The UPA government on Tuesday faced fresh attack from the Opposition on corruption when the BJP asked Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran to answer charges that his family-owned Sun TV Network was a beneficiary of pay-offs by a Malaysian company, which benefited from equity sold by Aircel.
“There are new scandals in the UPA government everyday. A new scandal is on the verge of being exposed. The cupboard of corruption of the UPA is overflowing and more skeletons are dying to come out,” BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said reacting to a media report in this regard.
Incidentally, Mr. Maran had a lengthy meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday night after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
Mr. Prasad alleged that during Mr. Maran's tenure as Telecom Minister there were some financial anomalies, which benefited companies owned by his family. “We know Maran's family owns the Sun TV Network which also has direct-to-home service. During his tenure as Telecom Minister the FDI norm was changed and the telecom sector FDI norm was increased to 74 per cent. Aircel, a telecom company which only had a licence for Tamil Nadu, later got licence for 14 new areas,” Mr. Prasad said.
The BJP alleged that 74 per cent stake in Aircel was purchased by a Malaysian company, Maxis Communication, when Mr. Maran was Telecom Minister. “Mr. Maran, will you please explain if Maxis Communication company has made any investment in [the] Sun DTH company or any other of your family-owned companies? Secondly, was this investment done through Astro Group company, which is a subsidiary of Maxis Communication,” Mr. Prasad asked.
He also sought to know whether the investment made in Sun Network by Maxis Communication was done after the latter bought 74 per cent equity of Aircel.
“He should also clarify if in any way a foreign investor has invested in Sun Network when Mr. Maran was a Minister. Is there a conflict of interest here or not? As a responsible Opposition party, we are raising important questions purely in national interest,” Mr. Prasad said.
He also asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to clarify his position on the issue.
“As you all know, the authority of determining the pricing of spectrum was taken out of the purview of the Group of Ministers on the insistence of Dayanidhi Maran,” Mr. Prasad said.
Mr. Prasad maintained that instead of threatening the BJP, Mr. Maran should answer these queries with proper documentary proof.
He insisted that the consequences of the change in FDI were well-known.
“Earlier, the Prime Minister said on October 26, 2009, that A. Raja is innocent when the CBI had started the inquiry [into 2G spectrum allocation]. We would request Manmohan Singh to learn from his past mistakes. Some questions are being raised. Please reply to them,” Mr. Prasad said.
Mr. Prasad said that if Mr. Maran had “misused his dominant position” as a Minister, his actions would come under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He wondered why the routing of slush money was increasingly being done by companies owned by DMK leaders, be it Kalaignar TV (in which Kanimozhi has a 20 per cent stake) or the Sun Network.
However, the Congress washed its hands of the controversy surrounding Mr. Maran. “If a question has been asked from Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran, obviously he will be the best person to answer it,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters in reply to a volley of questions on the issue.
At the same time, Mr. Tewari indicated that irregularities, if any, during Mr. Maran's tenure could be looked into by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which was looking into the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Mr. Tewari is also a member of the JPC.
Mr. Tewari said there was already a JPC to deal with “aberrations and irregularities, if any, that might have taken place. The JPC has been given the mandate by Parliament to examine the alleged irregularities in Telecom sector since 1999 to 2008.”
Replying to questions whether the JPC should look into allegations against Mr. Maran and whether he should appear before it, Mr. Tewari said the panel could go into the issue on its own or after any complaint “obviously if the thing appears in public space and if the JPC requires.”
Asked when A. Raja had resigned after similar allegations why should Mr. Maran continue, Mr. Tiwari said: “I have said what I have to say.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Maran slapped a legal notice on Tehelka magazine over a report in this regard.