New telecom scandals hit govt

New telecom scandals hit govt

New Delhi: The Comptroller and Auditor General is probing the allocation of satellite-based communication licenses, sources said on Tuesday, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his government grapples with graft charges that threaten their stability.

The allocation of Internet spectrum by the space ministry, which Singh oversees, and an unrelated granting of free broadband rights by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd adds to allegations against a government already grappling with a $39 billion telecoms scandal.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has seen its term tarnished by a string of corruption scams that have paralysed the Parliament, led to the sacking of then telecom minister A. Raja, and eroded public confidence in the Prime Minister and Congress.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is being probed by the CAG for allocating mobile Internet spectrum in 2005 without a proper bidding process that may have cost the exchequer up to 2 trillion ($44.2 billion), a CAG source who declined to be named said.

Officials at Isro said the CAG probe was taking place, but declined to comment further.

The government moved to cancel Isro’s allocation of lucrative S-band telecoms spectrum, able to provide 4G broadband internet services to the country’s rapidly-expanding mobile phone market, to private firm Devas Multimedia.

Isro had told department of telecommunications last year that it would cancel the contract if there was any violation of norms.

“The department wishes to clarify that the agreement entered into by Antrix (in a joint venture with Devas)... is already under review... A decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon," a department of space statement was reported as saying.

The country is also probing whether BSNL appointed franchises for broadband wireless access without charging any upfront payment, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported, citing a note from the telecom minister. The Hindustan Times is also the flagship newspaper of HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint.

BSNL had appointed franchises on a revenue-share basis, even after paying 80 billion($1.77 billion).

“It has been pointed out that ‘cheap access’ has been provided to these franchisees by BSNL, including costly broadband wireless access spectrum in metropolitan cities for which BSNL has already made massive upfront payment," telecom minster Kapil Sibal was reported as writing in a note to the department of telecom secretary.

BSNL chairman Gopal Das declined to comment.