Wimax franchise given to firm which didn't meet eligibility norms

Following suspicion of yet another telecom scam, the Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) against unknown officers of the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, a private company Ampoules and Auto, now known as Starnet Communications Private Limited.

Official sources said the PE, registered on August 20, related to worldwide interoperability for microwave access (via Wimax) franchise in 16 licence service areas of the BSNL. It was alleged that Wimax franchise was awarded to the small company, which did not have the required qualification of Rs.100-crore annual turnover for the past two years. It was also alleged that the company was not an original equipment manufacturer or system integrator, nor was it functional. Under the CBI scanner were the period 2007-08 and onwards.

The sources said Ampoules and Auto was registered in Kolkata but after the submission of bids for Wimax, the company changed its name to Starnet Communicational Pvt. Ltd and its interests in the country were being looked after by a close associate of the former Telecom Minister A. Raja, who is now lodged in the Tihar Central jail, having been chargesheeted in the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

Ampoules did not meet the eligibility criteria but it clubbed itself with another company. In the recent past, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) raised questions about Ampoules. Its leader Sitaram Yechury said in Kolkata that enquiries revealed that no such company ever existed in Kolkata at the address provided for seeking the franchise. The CPI(M) sent three letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, expressing its apprehensions.

The sources said the CBI was also examining the role of some other companies engaged in providing Wimax technology and services.

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