Expose on Dayanidhi Maran highlights PM's own failures

The CBI is investigating whether the award of telecom licences and spectrum to Maxis of Malaysia led to payoffs to the Marans of Sun TV. But what the issue really underlines is the inability of the PM to put in place a system to prevent such unilateral decision-making by UPA partners.

R Jagannathan June 01, 2011 13:36:22 IST
Expose on Dayanidhi Maran highlights PM's own failures

After A Raja, it’s now the turn of the Marans of Sun TV to feel the heat of media glare and probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the 2G (second generation) spectrum scam. But, a close look at the alleged crookery suggests that neither Raja nor the Marans would have got what they wanted but for the Prime Minister’s pusillanimity in dealing with the DMK’s push to “own” the telecom ministry.

The latest Tehelka expose draws a parallel between the alleged payoffs made by the Balwas of Swan Telecom to Kalaignar TV for giving the former telecom licences and spectrum, and Dayanidhi Maran’s decision to give Malaysia’s Maxis Group several licences and spectrum, allegedly in lieu of investments by the Group in Sun TV’s loss-making direct-to-home company.

Expose on Dayanidhi Maran highlights PMs own failures

Neither Raja nor the Marans would have got what they wanted but for the Prime Minister’s pusillanimity in dealing with the DMK’s push to “own” the telecom ministry. Reuters

Kalaignar TV is 80 percent owned by M Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal and daughter Kanimozhi (now in jail), while Sun Direct TV is owned by Dayanidhi Maran’s brother Kalanidhi and his wife Kaveri. Dayanidhi Maran was the Communications Minister in the UPA cabinet before Raja.

Say authors Ashish Khetan and Raman Kirpal in the 4 June issue of the weekly:

“…in a curious coincidence, in February 2007, four months after the licences were granted to Aircel (which was taken over by Maxis), Ananda Krishnan (Maxis Group owner), through one of his group companies, South Asia Entertainment Holding Ltd (SAEHL), invested $150 million in a phased manner in Sun Direct TV Pvt Ltd by acquiring 20 percent equity in the company owned and run by Dayanidhi’s brother Kalanidhi and his wife Kaveri Maran. The equity investment was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.”

In short, Tehelka believes that the Marans got a payoff just the way the Balwas of Swan Telecom routed Rs 200 crore to Kalaignar TV. But while Kalaignar claimed it was a loan and returned it when things got hot, the Marans claim Maxis Group’s investment in Sun Direct had nothing to do with Dayanidhi Maran’s decision to give licences to Aircel. Maran is suing Tehelka for their story.

But the larger question is this: how could such deals have happened without a nod from a larger group of ministers who normally go into issues like spectrum pricing and auctions? This is where the Prime Minister comes out in poor light.

According to the Tehelka story, Maran asked the Prime Minister to get the Group of Ministers (GoM) out of the decision-making process on telecom spectrum.

“On 23 February 2006, with the approval of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Group of Ministers comprising the Minister for Defence, Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Finance, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Telecom Minister was constituted to look into various issues concerning effective and optimum usage of spectrum. The terms of reference also included suggesting a spectrum pricing policy.”

But just five days later, Maran wrote to the PM and got this order rescinded. Telecom licensing and spectrum pricing were effectively moved out of the GoM’s purview, and Maran became the sole arbiter of its fortunes. Maran’s letter to the PM suggests that the PM had already agreed to let Maran have his way, but tried half-heartedly to change his mind later after understanding its implications. But Maran held firm and the PM backed off.

This is what Maran said in his letter to PM: “You may recall my meeting with you on 1st February 2006 when we had inter-alia discussed the issue of the Group of Ministers relating to the vacation of spectrum by Defence. You had kindly assured me that the Terms of Reference of the GoM would be drawn up exactly the way we wanted, which was to focus only on the issue of vacation of spectrum. I am, however, surprised to note that the GoM as constituted has much wider Terms of Reference, some of which I feel impinge upon the work normally to be carried out by the ministry itself. I shall be grateful if you could kindly instruct the concerned to modify the Terms of References suggested by us which are enclosed.”

The PM obliged. What Maran wrested from the PM, his successor Raja safeguarded like the crown jewels.

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