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Dial R For Extension

Dial R For Extension

Author: Anil Kumar
Publication: Tehelka
Date: May 5, 2009
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main41.asp?filename=Bu020509dial_r.asp

Introduction: The communications ministry always twists the rules to dispense favour

IN A clear violation of rules, Communications and Information Technology Minister A Raja has turned down the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) request to prosecute several officers, including top people of the state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL). At the top of the list is RSP Sinha, MTNL CMD. Worse, Raja has cleared Sinha's extension till September 30, 2011.

Other indicted officers include MTNL's former chairman and managing director Narinder Sharma, and three officers from the IT department. Six of those indicted by the CBI are in the private sector - a promoter of a Bangalore based company and one of his employees, two Motorola employees and a middleman associated with Motorola and one of his staffers.

The case dates back to 2003, when the CBI had recovered Rs 50 lakh in a raid on a middleman on September 25. According to the FIR, MTNL had made a payment of Rs 7.18 crore to Motorola, allegedly because illegal gratification was provided to MTNL officials through one Rajiv Gupta, a middleman. At that time, the names of the officials were not confirmed.

While the CBI conducted its investigation, RSP Sinha, who was director (finance) at the time, was selected for the post of the CMD. But because he was a suspect, then prime minister Atal Behari Vapayee did not confirm his appointment as CMD and asked the CBI to expedite the investigation. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) insisted his appointment need not wait for clearance from the CBI, despite telecom secretary Champak Chatterji's reiteration in April 2004 that the CMD should be a person of "impeccable integrity". He directed DoT to wait till the investigation was complete.

Thereafter, the DoT obtained an interim report from the CBI on May 8, 2004 in which the CBI stated, "The involvement of Shri RSP Sinha has not so far been noticed in RC 54(A)/2003-DLI." Instead of waiting for the final outcome, on May 13, the DoT recommended regularising his appointment. It was approved in July.

THE VIGILANCE wing of the DoT examined the CBI report and said: "All the officers were prima-facie working as a part of conspiracy along with the officers of Motorola. They kept the CDMA projects continuing (Phase- II/III) even after the serious deficiencies found in the Phase-I of the network setup and they processed the payments for Motorola overlooking the rules position and tender conditions."

The case was then put up to telecom secretary on January 14, 2009, who recommended seeking more information from the CBI. The secretary in turn put up the case to Minister of State Jyotiraditya Scindia who, after recording "discuss with me" on January 15, 2009, didn't find the time to do so. On February 25, 2009, the CBI reminded the telecom secretary and he sent the file the next day to A Raja: after keeping the file for a week, he wrote, "Discuss please". After the discussion - the same day - the telecom secretary noted, "All payments seem to have been done in the best interests of the company and we should not take any step which will cause demoralisation or harassment of the company."

The minister rejected the permission for further investigation. In his note of March 18, 2009, he stated, "In view of the above, permission is not granted." After that, Raja cleared Sinha's extension. With elections around the corner, this was one extension that was plugged in a hurry.

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