Friday, March 28, 2014

Rules flouted to aid Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio : CAG

DoT  rules  flouted to aid Reliance Jio : CAG

‘The Pioneer” -  January 20,  2014 | J Gopikrishnan | New Delhi

After the exposé on irregularities in the KG Basin, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) has found blatant violations of Department of Telecommunications (DoT) rules and favouritism in the manner the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Group was allowed entry into the telecom sector. The CAG has raised several uncomfortable questions about the favouritism shown to Reliance Jio during the audit of 3G / Broadband Wireless Access auction.

The CAG’s recent findings and questionnaires to DoT detail the way the Government provided a backdoor entry to Mukesh Ambani’s company in the telecom sector in 2010. The apex auditor also claimed that favouritism was shown to the company that led to possible loss of more than Rs 20,000-crore to the exchequer during 2011-13.  The CAG also blamed DoT for providing monopoly to Reliance Jio in the broadband and 4G sector by withdrawing State-owned companies BSNL and MTNL.

The DoT has not yet answered the CAG’s queries on violations.  Documents available with The Pioneer show that auction for Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) Spectrum was stage-managed to give backdoor entry to Reliance Jio.
The CAG in its preliminary findings said, “a small company” Infotel Broadband Services Private Limited (IBSPL) was given approval to take part in the auction in mid-2010 without meeting the net worth limit and allowed to bid for more than Rs 12,750-crore.
The small company, with a turnover of just Rs 16 lakh and a single subscriber, had only Rs 3-crore authorised capital during auction. “The DoT did,  however, neither seek the sources of funding for furnishing the EMD (Earnest Money Deposit) of Rs 252-crore (1,500 times the company’s annual turnover or 100 times the paid-up capital of the company) in March 2010, at the time of application for the BWA spectrum,” said the CAG’s preliminary findings, seeking response from the DoT.
The IBSPL won the auction in all circles of India. Within hours of winning the auction, the subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) was allowed to take over 95 per cent of the shares of the small company. The takeover deal was worth Rs 6,000-crore. In the preliminary findings, the auditors say this deal created a windfall of more than Rs 4,800-crore to the IBSPL, which became the RIL’s subsidiary.
The auditors blamed the DoT for violating the mandatory lock-in period of three years, which bars acquisitions and mergers in the telecom sector. “A non-participant company exploited the loophole left by DoT officials in the eligibility criterion for obtaining BWA spectrum by acquiring a winning company without participating in the auction process, within hours of closure of the auction process, thereby vitiating the sanctity of the auction process,” said CAG.

The four-page communication to DoT, signed by Senior Audit Officer Rajendra Kumar, details the RIL’s surrogate takeover plans of the small company during March-June 2010. The auditors also blamed DoT for allowing Reliance Jio to obtain voice service facility while paying only for the BWA Spectrum, which is widely termed as 4G in the Indian telecom sector.

According to CAG auditors, Reliance Jio only paid Rs 12,750-crore for getting broadband operations across India. But later the DoT granted voice facility also without charging any extra money. According to the questionnaire sent to DoT, the auditors pointed out that for the similar voice service facility, the 3G auction winners paid more than Rs 33,000-crore for operating in all circles in India during the same period. Sources in CAG indicated that apart from favouritism, this move of DoT created a clear loss of Rs 20,000-crore to the public exchequer.  

After Reliance Jio’s entry, the State-run BSNL and MTNL withdrew from the broadband sector. These PSUs were also granted BWA spectrum. The Union Cabinet recently approved the reimbursement of money to BSNL and MTNL. In its communication to DoT, CAG said this move will leave “virtually the entire field to a company that had not participated in the auction process.”

Questioning the withdrawal of State-run companies, CAG officials indicated this was a clear move to provide monopoly in broadband sector to the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio.  

[This report was published in "The Pioneer" on Jan 20, 2014]

26/11 hero still fighting the enemy within!

26/11 hero still fighting the enemy within!
"The Pioneer -  November 26, 2013 | J Gopikrishnan | New Delhi

Even as the nation observes the fifth anniversary of the 26/11 terror attack on Tuesday, a paralysed NSG Commando is fighting a legal battle against the Indian Army for justice. Havildar PV Manesh who got the Shaurya Chakra has been transferred from his hometown in Kerala to New Delhi and his helper has been taken away.

Mercifully, the Delhi High Court has stayed the transfer, and asked the Army and Government of India to file a reply by January 24, 2014. The Army may come out with its own justification, but the fact remains that the commando needs round-the-clock care and attendance. 
However, the High Court’s order may not be the end of Manesh’s ordeal. He has been constantly abused and harassed by Army officials and even a plea to Defence Minister AK Antony, by his wife has not helped matters.
Manesh went into a coma for four months after being hit by a grenade thrown by terrorists. The right side of his body is paralysed and a splinter is still lodged in his head. During the NSG operation in Hotel Oberoi, Manesh saved 40 people and eliminated two terrorists before being hit.
After a wheelchair-bound Manesh was discharged from hospital, the Army posted him to the Territorial Army Unit in his hometown Kannur. He was also allotted a bystander to help him. Manesh belonged to the 27 Madras Unit of the Madras Regiment and was in NSG on deputation.
Manesh’s troubles began when he went in for Ayurvedic treatment, which helped him to the extent that he started walking small distances with the help of a cane by the end of 2009.
However, the Army refused to meet his medical expenses claiming that Ayurveda was not approved for reimbursement. After the Delhi High Court’s intervention, the Army was forced to pay the bills as a special case.
On September 17, the Army issued Movement Orders to Manesh asking him to join the Unit in Delhi . Manesh’s pleas urging the Army to let him remain in his hometown Kannur, where he was accommodated on compassionate grounds, were not entertained by the authorities of his Unit.
Shockingly, the Army authorities took the decision to move Manesh a week after his wife Sheema appealed to Defence Minister AK Antony urging him to retain her husband in the hometown station of the Territorial Army, given his physical condition.
According to officials in the Defence Ministry, on getting her petition, Antony instructed the “authorities concerned” to retain Manesh permanently in his hometown unit of the Territorial Army as a special case. Despite this, the Army Unit ordered Manesh to join Delhi by October 30. Meanwhile, the authorities also called back the helper who had been assisting Manesh to move around for the past five years.
After all doors were shut on him, Manesh approached the Delhi High Court. The bench, headed by Justice Gita Mittal and Justice VP Vaish stayed the transfer order on October 22. The next hearing of the case is posted on January 24.
Apart from citing his physical inabilities, Manesh said in the Writ Petition that he was abused and threatened by the Commanding Officer of 27 Madras Unit. His wife’s petition to Antony clearly talked about constant harassment and threats by the authorities of the Regiment. “Due to the harassment by the authorities, he suffered illness, fits and headaches,” said Sheema’s letter to Antony .

Manesh, Sheema and their five-year-old son live with aged parents in Kannur. He is currently undergoing Ayurvedic treatment twice a month at a hospital 200 kilometres away from home.

[This report was published in "The Pioneer" on Nov 26, 2013]

Note : One good thing happened - I got call from Defence Minister AK Antony around 10 am, promising immediate action to ensure justice to PV Manesh.  By first week of March 2014, orders were issued to retain Manesh in his home town Territorial Army Unit in Kannur District, Kerala. Feel so happy as journalist to bring justice to a wounded soldier of 26/11 terror attack.