This is being written on Saturday morning. When you read the column on Monday, will Spectrum Raja still be king of the telecom ministry? Maybe, maybe not. "I will not resign,' he has said, adding "why should I resign?" Millions of Indians can tell him why, but the one Indian who matters to Raja, a certain gentleman in dark glasses in Chennai whose name suggests infinite kindness, hasn't told him why, so he will shamelessly cling on to his chair.
But perhaps, this time M Karunanidhi might not have any option but to replace him.
However, will the mere removal of Raja be enough? In the Adarsh case, the buck hasn't stopped with Chavan. There's talk of initiating action against the bureaucrats whose clever machinations made the whole scam possible, people like Ramanand Tiwari, then principal secretary for urban development, SS Kshatriya, then general manager of BEST (they seem to have helped transfer spare FSI (floor space index) from the adjoining BEST land to Adarsh), the Mumbai Collector Idzes Kundan and others.
There is also serious talk of demolishing the Adarsh building which will be a fitting thing to do, because it will ensure that all those dreams of making illicit money will lie in a heap of rubble. Similarly, in the Commonwealth Games scandal, it's not just Suresh Kalmadi who had to resign from his Congress party post. Multiple probes are on into every aspect of the Games.
But the Commonwealth Games and Adarsh scams are really tiny compared to the telecom scandal. In its final report on the case, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said that the loss to the country due to the spectrum scam is Rs1.76 lakh crore.
That's Rs1760000000000. Now you know why long, long ago India invented the zero: we knew that in the coming centuries we would need lots and lots of them. Most of us would have problems comprehending what all those zeroes mean. This may help a bit. Rs1.76 lakh crore is seven times the national health budget, three times the education budget, and bigger than the entire defence budget.
Impressed? You should be. Can there be a bigger scam than this? It has to be the biggest swindle ever in the history of India and anywhere in the world. Yet, Raja and his Boss of Infinite Mercy think they are blameless!
CAG's final report leaves no room for ambiguity. It says the allocation of the 2G (2nd generation) spectrum in January 2008 was flawed in every way. A total of 122 licences were issued to telecom companies for 2G services in different circles in the country. Of these, according to CAG, 85 licences were given to 12 companies inspite of the fact that they did not meet DoT eligibility conditions. But that's a technicality: based on the foreign direct investment (FDI) attracted by the companies which won the licences, the cost of a pan-India licence should have been anywhere between Rs7,442 crore and Rs47,918 crore. Raja issued a pan-India licence for only Rs1,658 crore.
CAG used two different methodologies to assess the loss to the exchequer. One was based on the offer made by foreign telecom major STel in 2007. For 6.2 MHz of 2G spectrum for the 122 licences, its offer added up to Rs65,725 crore against the Rs1,093 crore collected by DoT. Add to that the dual technology rate offered by STel of Rs24,591 crore and you get Rs90,316 crore. The second methodology is too technical to get into.
Raja and his ministry adopted a first-come, first-served policy at earlier rates rather than the auction route taken for 3G, which has shown how very valuable spectrum allocation is. Raja and his cronies may claim that this is hindsight, and that at the time of the 2G allocation they did not have the benefit of the 3G figures. To that we reply with a simple analogy: Suppose you had a very rare Tyeb Mehta painting, one everyone knew was extremely valuable. Would you sell it to the first offer you received? Or would you put it up for auction at Christie's to see how much more the painting would fetch?
I will give you two answers. Answer No 1: You would maximise your income by giving it to the auction house. Answer No 2: You would sell it to the first buyer. This would have a catch: the income here would be your official declared income. But there would be a sizeable amount you would get under the table. Am I insinuating something? Draw your own conclusions.
But is Raja's head enough? If he is sacked, he will lick his wounds, and then flourish in Tamil Nadu politics. Considering the loss he has caused to the nation, he must be probed by the Anti Corruption Bureau, income-tax department, etc, thoroughly. If he has amassed any wealth, he should be made to cough it up. In any case, he should be prosecuted for all its worth.
Even that isn't enough. What about the officials of the telecom ministry? How can they get away scot free? They can't and they shouldn't. From now on, no one should.