India Intelligence Report
 

   More Conflict of Interest Reports on Maran

 

Another report in the New Indian Express (NIE) revealed broad based and deeper instances of Telecommunications Minister Dayanidhi Maran’s conflict of interest in dealing with wireless spectrums, cable television, and voice technologies for personal gain. The NIE had earlier published a detailed investigative report on alleging Telecommunications Minister Dayanidhi Maran’s conflict of interest and his attempts to arm-twist the Tata Group to give him a share of Tata Sky’s Dish-to-Home (DTH) business.

In this report, noted columnist S. Gurumurthy, revealed instances where Maran’s business interests over-ruled national interests and how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to intervene to contain the embarrassment. He also talks about Parliamentary Committees that have raised concerns on haphazard methods of allocating spectrum licenses, which could be termed incompetence, but were based on calculated moves to aggrandize wealth. Gurumurthy also cites cases where courts intervened to castigate the Telecommunications Ministry for partiality.

The Telecommunications Ministry is responsible for the allocation of spectrums (technical terms wireless bands) that are used for wireless operations by cell phone, Internet Service Providers, DTH Operators, and Cable Operators. With cell phone, video, and voice technologies converging over the Internet Protocol (IP) technology, there is a clamor for licenses by operators. Wireless has great significance in developing nations as it will outpace landlines. In fast-growing countries with exploding economies and markets in India, wireless assumes survival proportions without which, operators cannot survive. It also represents great opportunities for growth.

Maran had apparently blocked a routine licensing application by political and business competitor Jaya TV while approving another non-competitor the same privilege. Finally, Jaya TV had to take the Government to court and seek a ruling that the Ministry had to grant a decision by a stipulated time.

Maran delayed the approval of Tata Sky’s DTH business for two years while his brother tried to arm-twist the Tata Group to grant the Maran family a 35% stake at a discounted price. When his brother’s efforts failed, Maran himself tried arm-twisting Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata threatening to use his Ministry to “finish off” the Tata Telecom business. Meanwhile, the Tata Group complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who had to lean on the Ministry to get the approval process going.

In its report in December 2005, the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Telecommunications made several adverse comments on impropriety in allocating spectrums to service providers. They noted with dismay that Maran had allocated spectrums free to operators when a national carrier had offered USD 337 million for 3rd generation (3G) services. Finally, understanding Maran’s apparent closeness with certain operators, Singh had to intervene again by appointing a Group of Ministers to formulate a national spectrum policy. 

Maran had granted advanced deeper insights to Government policy-making to his brother who now runs Sun TV. The Government was working on a national telecom regulation that would allow the convergence of data, voice, and video technologies and allow competition between cable, cell phone, telecommunications, and Internet Service Providers for these services. Coincidentally, Sun TV ventured into potentially lucrative Wireless FM business by floating two companies Kal Radio (Oct 7, 2005) and South Asia FM (November 9, 2005) when the national telecom deregulation policy was announced November 10, 2005. Maran granted Sun TV (and therefore himself) 67 of the 338 FM radio licenses that will cover 91 Indian cities.

Maran drastically reduced National & International Long Distance telephone licensing rates inviting severe criticism from the Finance Ministry denying the country large amounts of money that operators were willing to pay. This decision coincided with the Telecommunications Ministry’s decision to legalize Voice on IP (VoIP) and allowing Cable operators to carry voice calls. With advance knowledge of such Government deregulation, Maran’s family had established specialized companies that would carry VoIP over Cable.

Recently, the Telecommunications Ministry announced plans to develop a land-based optical network for the Army so it can take away so-called “defense spectrums” away from the defense forces. While the Government is still mulling this proposal, defense specialists in Network Centric Warfare and electronic warfare have expressed reservations against this proposal. This is because, while wireless communication is susceptible to jamming and interception, there are technologies that can be deployed to work around these limitations. However, land-based lines can be cut and the defense forces will be stranded and isolated without communication between groups. It is not known why the Telecommunications Ministry desperately wants access to these spectrums when there are many that area available to it and no other country has ever dipped into their defense spectrums.

This is the basis of Gurumurthy’s assertion that Maran has abused his position as the Minister of a Ministry which controls these licenses to corner economic and political gain for his co-owned Sun TV network while denying others of such opportunity and therefore violated contractual laws. Furthermore, Gurumurthy says that Maran used his political position to stymie competition and therefore violated Monopoly laws. Through these means, Gurumurthy says the Maran family has aggrandized over USD 1.8 billion.

These allegations are serious for the nation. If correct, it demonstrates how politicians have graduated to a new level of stealing the nation through the manipulation of weak laws, inept corruption fighting mechanism, a complicit media, and disenfranchised educated population.