The Central Bureau of Investigation on Thursday raided the headquarters of the Department of Telecommunications here to probe into alleged irregularities in the award of telecom licences last year, which may have caused the public exchequer a loss of thousands of crores.

CBI sleuths conducted searches in the Wireless Planning Cell (WPC) and in the office of the Deputy Director-General (Access Services) at Sanchar Bhavan after it registered a case against unknown DoT officials, private persons and companies under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

“It has been alleged that there had been serious irregularities in the award of Unified Access Services Licences to private companies. As per information received, there was a criminal conspiracy between certain officials of DoT and private persons/companies and others in order to award licences to these companies by putting a cap on the number of applicants against the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and by awarding licences to private companies on a first-come-first-served basis on the rates of 2001 without any competitive bidding,” the CBI said in a statement.

It was in late 2007 that the DoT invited applications and subsequently issued around two dozen new licences in February 2008. The new licensees had got start-up spectrum at the cost of Rs.1,651 crore for pan-India operations, at a price fixed in 2001 that were much below the international prices, while questions were also raised regarding crossholding patterns in at least two new telecom operators.

All this led to existing players and political parties crying foul over handing over the spectrum to new players and not auctioning it. While some Opposition members alleged losses to the government worth Rs.60,000 crore, experts had put it at between Rs.20,000 crore and Rs.25,000 crore.

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