New Delhi - Just ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, the Congress has charged the government with a staggering "Rs 45,000 crore telecom scam" in which allegedly the Narendra Modi government is "surreptiously taking steps" to protect the interests of six leading telecom companies which owe the money to the public exchequer.
The government has, however, trashed the charges saying the CAG report on understatement of revenue by six telecom firms pertains to UPA period from 2006-07 to 2009-10. It also said that it has initiated process of recovering the money from the companies.
The telecom companies named by the Congress are Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Communications, Idea, Tata and Aircel.
"Latest is a staggering 'Telecom Scam' of approximately Rs 45,000 crore plus that is being buried under the carpet by 'Modi Sarkar'", party's chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala alleged at a joint press conference with party spokespersons Shaktisinh Gohil and R P N Singh.
He alleged that the government is "surreptitiously taking steps to protect the interests of six leading telecom companies by helping them avoid the payment of charges rightfully owed to the government."
He claimed that this is a clear-cut case of loss to the public exchequer verified by the CAG "with the sole aim of helping friendly 'crony capitalists'."
Replying to a question whether Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was this week shifted to Law and Justice Ministry from Telecom was involved, Surjewala claimed that what has happened in the matter cannot take place "without the direct or indirect concurrence" of the Prime Minister and it would be "improper" to blame any one minister.
The Congress leaders said that the CAG initiated an audit of the six telecom companies for four years from 2006-07 to 2009-10 at the instructions of the Congress-led UPA government. It specifically looked at underreporting of income and non-uniform method of accounting adopted by various telecom companies and consequent lack of obligation to pay outstanding licence fee and Spectrum Usage Charges (SUC).
In its report submitted this year, the CAG found an alleged understatement/ underreporting of income by the six companies of Rs.46,045.75 crore in the four years.
"Resultantly, the CAG found that there was an amount of Rs 12,488.93 crore, which remains un-recovered by the government. This does not include penalty, if any, and other relevant taxes," Surjewala said.
He said that although there has been considerable increase in business, consumer base and income, even if loss of exchequer is calculated on the same formula for the years 2010-11 to 2015-16, this figure would be Rs.45,000 crore plus.
"Instead of immediately acting on these shocking and startling revelations reflecting serious loss to public exchequer, Modi government has opted for an alternative re-evaluation of these figures by Telecom Ministry through
Chartered Accountants who are empanelled with them," Surjewala said.
Surjewala claimed that firstly this is a clear methodology of Modi government to "inordinately delay" the process of recovery for years together, if not, writing it off entirely.
Secondly, it reflects the apparent "mal-intent" of the government to "dilute or diminish" the figures put forth by the CAG, he charged.
Raising a number of questions, he wondered whether it is a "grotesque breach of public trust" by BJP-led government, which, in the past, had made a notional loss pegged by CAG in 2G spectrum allocation case a major issue of corruption.
Asking about the government plans to recover actual losses, he wondered whether government is acting as a "willful collaborator" with the select corporate entities in artfully dodging recovery of massive sums of money.
Is it a new way to minimize fiscal deficit"? he said sarcastically.
"Why is Modi government maintaining a conspicuous silence on the matter becoming virtually comatose despite the mammoth size of financial sums involved?", he said.
Rubbishing the charges, the Department of Telecom said, "CAG Report on understatement of revenue by six Telecom Service Providers by Rs 46,000 crore was received in February 2016. The report pertains to four years i.e. 2006-07 to 2009-2010 which is before the tenure of this government."
The report, it said, points out a shortfall of Rs 5,000 crore of License Fee and Spectrum Usage Charge and Rs 7,000 crore of interest.
"The Department received the key documents scrutinised by the CAG in mid-June 2016. These are being vigorously examined and the process of issue of demands for the four financial years for six operators in 22 license service areas in consonance with license agreement is currently ongoing," the statement added.
DoT said the demands raised from this exercise will be recovered with due interest and penalty as applicable under license agreements.
"There is therefore no loss of revenue to Government," the statement said.
Stating that Revenue Assurance is the top priority of DoT, it said, "The government is determined to recover every rupee of underpaid amount with interest and penalty from every defaulting company in the minimum possible time."