New Delhi: A day after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) informed the Supreme Court that Dayanidhi Maran was being investigated for his role in the telecom licence allocation, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader quit the Union cabinet, even as a fresh affidavit was filed in the case accusing Union telecom minister Kapil Sibal and attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati of irregularities.
Maran will soon be questioned by CBI over his alleged role, said an official of the investigative agency on condition of anonymity.
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The resignation buoyed the opposition, which demanded that other ministers who had a role in shaping the telecom policy should also quit.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has had two ministers resign over second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation and the number of portfolios without ministers adds to the perceived policy paralysis. A. Raja was earlier forced to quit as telecom minister owing to his alleged role in the case.
The growing uncertainty, due to the spate of scandals and controversies besetting the government and its failure to combat inflation, is affecting the investment atmosphere in the country, experts said.
Housing Development Finance Corp. Ltd chairman Deepak Parekh was cited by The Times of India as saying that there was a “decline in investment in India by Indian companies because there is so much uncertainty around. This is not healthy”.
Maran’s resignation has made the need for a shuffling of ministerial portfolios more immediate.
Maran is the fourth minister to have resigned from the council of ministers since the government came to power in 2009. Besides Maran and Raja, the others to have resigned are Shashi Tharoor, who was accused of impropriety in the Indian Premier League controversy, and Prithviraj Chavan, who replaced Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, also accused of irregularities in allotment of houses for war widows.
While DMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi has defended Maran, his grandnephew, the opposition says the resignation is not enough.
“BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) feels his (Maran’s) resignation was not only necessary, but also long overdue. Why did the Prime Minister wait for that long when things were so clear,” asked BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
Karunanidhi said his party had not sought any replacement for Raja and Maran.
Maran, who was minister of textiles, stepped down on Thursday morning immediately after a meeting of the Union cabinet.
CBI, in its status report on the 2G probe submitted in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, said that Maran, who was telecom minister in 2004-07, had abused his powers in issuing licences. The 71-page report alleged that Maran forced C. Sivasankaran, the founder of telecom firm Aircel, to sell his stake to another company close to the Maran family.
CBI will seek to question Maran about his actions “before concluding our preliminary enquiry”, added the CBI official.
The agency is not rushing to register a fresh case, he said.
“We have three months time (to file) a chargesheet. We want to verify the claims of Sivasankaran and question many people. Sivasankaran may be called for questioning again,” he added.
CBI has registered a preliminary enquiry on the directions of the apex court and is probing spectrum allocation from 2001 to 2007.
Meanwhile, the petitioners in the 2G case, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), filed a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court on Thursday alleging that Sibal wrongfully favoured Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications Ltd by reducing a penalty that should have been levied on the telco.
It claims that the department of telecommunications (DoT) officers had recommended a penalty of Rs 50 crore and that Sibal reduced this to Rs 5 crore. The minister reduced the penalty on the grounds that the violation was under the agreement between the telco and the Universal Services Obligation Fund. The penalty proposed by DoT was as per Universal Access Services Licence rules in which an operator can be penalized up to Rs 50 crore per violation in a circle, the affidavit said.
CPIL said the telco should have been fined for all 13 circles where it has licences, making the total possible penalty Rs 650 crore. “This abuse of authority by Sibal...needs a thorough investigation by the CBI,” CPIL said.
The affidavit also says that Vahanvati was consulted by former telecom minister Raja on decisions he took that eventually led to the latter’s arrest in the 2G case.
CPIL alleges that Raja directly consulted Vahanvati in violation of the law ministry’s rules.
It said the public accounts committee’s draft report on the 2G allocation also makes observations against the conduct of Vahanvati and calls for an investigation into the matter.
Sibal and Vahanvati were not available for comment.
The affidavit also asks for investigations into the roles of Ambani, Maran and Pradip Baijal, former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The matter is due for hearing in the apex court on 11 July.
CBI is also seeking a report from the ministry of corporate affairs on Essar’s stake in Loop, the official cited above said. The agency is checking whether Loop served as a front for Essar during the spectrum allocation in 2007-08 in violation of the rules.
Shauvik Ghosh in New Delhi and Amritha Venketakrishnan in Chennai contributed to this story.