Mar 4, 2011

‘Raja’ ki aayegi baarat !

Setting records is something India is always ahead at. The recent telecom scam worth Rs. 1.7 Trillion in the Indian Telecom industry is considered as one of the largest scam in recent times, wherein the 2G licenses were allotted to new entrants in the telecom industry by Mr. A Raja, who was the then telecom minister.

What Raja did was not something very clever but a general tendency of humans to exploit their power and position. The spectrum licenses were given out on first come first serve basis, the same way movie tickets are sold ! This was a consequence of poor regulatory oversight and deliberate manipulation of policies to favor a select clutch of Indian companies. Rules and guidelines were bent in an arbitrary and opaque manner and the recommendations of the regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), selectively applied to benefit a few private firms, some of whom have no experience in telecom. Corporate – political handshake is the chief cause behind the selective manipulation of national policies in most of the scams in India. Electromagnetic spectrum is a very valuable national resource which was undervalued in this scam.

The 2G scam basically included
(a) Under pricing second generation (2G) spectrum
(b) Allowing companies to use two competing technologies — the global system of mobile (GSM) communications and the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology — using the same license
(c) Allocating more spectrum to companies than what their licenses specified.

The total loss to the country due to this scam could be as much as Rs. 1,76,645 crore — more than Rs.10,000 for each citizen.

The PM knew it, and yet he remained silent when Raja claimed that he had taken his approval while allotting licenses. And the argument that Raja gave was something even a kid couldn’t digest. He tried to go away clean with a simple statement – I did what was being done by my predecessors. He claimed 2G spectrum and 3G spectrum were not comparable just as basmati rice was not comparable to rice from the PDS (public distribution system). The government authorities are still so easy about this scam.

The court has directed Tihar authorities to consider Balwa's plea to have home-made food and special orthopedic mattress and pillows in jail as per the relevant rules after his counsel pleaded for special privilege for his client saying he suffered from acute back pain. Balwa is one of the accused in this scam and according to a report, he is a fitness freak and works out everyday. How do we associate the acute back pain with a person who is physically fit ? Aren’t they one amongst us as the democracy says ? Do they really deserve special treatment ? The authorities won’t leave a stone unturned in thrashing a pickpocket who does it for his need and living, but the greedy and filthy rich heads are still happily comfortable, be it at home or in jail. Ours is a successful democracy as they say. But still it is surprising how we are so quiet about the money that was laundered in this scam. It was our money; and it has now gone into wrong hands. And yet we remain silent by just flipping the newspapers.

Things won’t change merely by changing the wrong people in the system. The system has to be revamped with fool proof policies so that there are no loopholes. It’s not about wrong people being at the right places but about the wrong system in place. We are humans and as long as the system will permit, we will exploit the loopholes. We may eliminate one Raja, but we will still have a whole ‘baraat’ of ‘Rajas’ waiting for making the news for all the wrong reasons in future until we change the system.