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Will PM buckle under pressure to take 'tainted' Baalu, Raja?

Will PM buckle under pressure to take 'tainted' Baalu, Raja?

Author: PNS
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 23, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/178066/Will-PM-buckle-under-pressure-to-take-'tainted'-Baalu-Raja.html

With a commanding majority on his side, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not be ready to include either non-performing or controversial Ministers in his team. And that could seal the fate of TR Baalu and A Raja unless the PM succumbs to DMK pressure and allows them to sneak into his Cabinet.

The involvement of Baalu and Raja in controversies brought a lot of disrepute to the previous UPA regime. While Raja was the eye of a series of scams, Baalu faced charges of non-performance as the Minister of Road Transport and Highways, misusing his official position to favour his son. The Pioneer was the first newspaper to expose these serious irregularities.

Soon after the swearing-in ceremony on Friday, the Prime Minister tried to reach out to a sulking DMK and hoped that the Dravidian party would "see reason" and be back with Congress. Singh, however, made an oblique reference to poor performance of Ministers like TR Baalu when he said he wanted to put a "concentrated focus back on infrastructure".

Singh said, "We hope this is a temporary phase… We hope they will see reason." Terming the Tamil Nadu party as "valued colleagues", he added: "I hope they are back with us. Whatever the UPA offered (to DMK) is reasonable. They (DMK) are our respected colleagues. We still hope in the next few days, they will reconsider their decision."

Following are the 'negatives' that may weigh on the mind of PM in saying 'no' to Raja and Baalu.

A Raja

* Spectrum scam, considered the mother of all scams, had led to the loss of more than Rs 1 lakh crore to the public exchequer. Licences were given on first-come-first-served basis, ignoring TRAI/ Finance recommendations. Licences were given on October 2008 at a price fixed in 2001.

* Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) in the first week of May had filed preliminary findings on the blatant corruption in allotting 2G spectrum at throwaway prices to real estate companies in the telecom sector. The spectrum allotment has been challenged in the Delhi High Court and the court has already observed its displeasure on the procedure followed.

* Rejecting all clarifications of the Telecom Ministry, the CVC has gone on record saying it would fix responsibility for the irregularities in June. The CVC had already observed that the Ministry had facilitated the new telecom companies to offload their shares at whopping prices.

* Swan Telecom got the licence for Rs 1,537 crore and offloaded its 45 per cent share within months to UAE-based Etisalat for Rs 4,500 crore. Similarly, Unitech bagged licence for Rs 1,650 crore and offloaded its 60 per cent shares to Norway-based Telenor for Rs 6,000 crore. As Telenor is operating in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Home Ministry withheld sanction.

* Raja forced BSNL to enter into an MoU with Swan Telecom just two days before the Etisalat deal. In the controversial MoU, no mention was made about the rates. This was apparently done to enhance the value of Swan shares. The BSNL was entering into an unprecedented deal with Swan for Intra Circle Roaming, which would have given Swan access to all the infrastructure of BSNL without any investment. The PMO ordered an inquiry on MPs' complaint.

* The Finance Ministry also locked horns with Raja on the pricing of 2G and 3G spectrum. The PMO intervened and relieved Raja of the charge of 3G spectrum allocation and appointed a GoM to check corruption.

* After the spectrum scam, on the eve of elections, Raja was involved in BSNL's WiMax franchisee scam. Of the 11 companies that applied for the franchisee, six were related to Raja. His confidant Sanjay Kapoor had floated five companies. His relatives and even driver were directors of these five companies, which were registered the same day, through same witnesses, same auditors and same notaries.

* Raja also floated several real estate companies by inducting close family members and even his wife, who was director of Chennai-based Green House Promoters Pvt Ltd and Equas Estates Private Ltd. He did not file the mandatory information with the Prime Minister on close relatives' businesses.

TR Baalu

* Caught in the controversy for recommending gas allocation quota for son's company, King Gas.

* The low point for Baalu was when truckers went on strike twice within six months, in July 2008 and January 2009.

* He frequently changed the chairman of NHAI, the prime implementing agency for highway projects. The 2007-08 financial year saw four NHAI chairpersons being replaced. Baalu was known for meddling too much in NHAI affairs, especially transfers. In the NHAI and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, it is well known that even Class IV employees cannot be transferred without his nod.

* Golden Quadrilateral, the ambitious project of connecting all four metros with four-lane highways, is still incomplete. The original deadline was December 2003.

* Baalu cornered most projects for Tamil Nadu, his home State, at the cost of other States. It led to disparity in highway development among States. The Ministry statistics reveal that the State has cornered the most number of four-laning projects in India, the maximum length of highways under National Highway Development Programme and even pilot projects.

* Crores of rupees of Central Road Fund (CRF) lying unutilized, but no initiative has been taken by the Ministry.

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