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Friday, October 30, 2009

Raja takes on BJP over spectrum distribution

Facing allegations of irregularities in spectrum allotment, Telecom Minister A Raja today hit out at the BJP saying free distribution of radio frequency among operators during the NDA regime may have cost the country over Rs 1.6 lakh crore.Alleging that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance regime had distributed for free, 250 Mega Hertz of spectrum among the telecom operators, he told reporters that "the scam during the NDA regime could be worth much more than Rs 1.6 lakh crore."Asked about demands for his resignation, he replied, "I will not step down."Raja debunked charges of Rs 60,000 crore spectrum scam levelled by BJP against him and said, "Ours is a government that has followed all rules to the letter and spirit by following the recommendations of TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)."

Pooh-poohing BJP leader Arun Jaitely's allegation, he said, "The BJP leader himself had defended a major operator in court...During the NDA regime, 250 MHz of spectrum was distributed among the operators without any charge. 900 bands of spectrum, which was not to have been allocated, was given as additional spectrum... This is the biggest scam."Raja charged the NDA regime with reducing licence fees several times and accused it of ignoring rules in allotment of spectrum.

"Whereas there was no provision for giving spectrum beyond 4.4 MHz to any single operator, the then government distributed this frequency much beyond this limit and it did not get any revenue share when the spectrum was given beyond 8-10 MHz," the minister said.At the HT Leadership Summit today, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came to Raja's defence, saying allegations of corruption was not proof of corruption.The opposition parties have been calling for Raja's resignation ever since CBI searched offices of the Telecom Ministry and some private mobile operators last week over allegations that spectrum was allocated to new operators at dirt-cheap prices, causing a loss of over Rs 20,000 crore to the exchequer."The NDA government is responsible for its irrational decision. The availability of spectrum was first put on the coffers without any disclosure. And ultimately, very cleverly and conveniently existing spectrum of 500 MHz was shared with the operators by the then NDA ministry," Raja said.

The NDA government had decided that spectrum from 8.0 mhz to 10 mhz may be alloted without any further increase in revenue share."... Is this to say that the spectrum that was available were its ancestral property," the minister said."Some of the operators are benefitting from it without observing the law," he said, adding that "they are accusing a minister who is following TRAI recommendation after consulting PM."The DoT paper alleged that Pramod Mahajan, the then Telecom Minister under the NDA regime, in 2001 had taken a decision to allot spectrum to operators beyond 6.2 mhz without any upfront charge and subscriber base against the recommendations of the Telecom Commission.

Accordingly, about 90 mhz has been allotted to these operators beyond 6.2 mhz without any upfront charges.To benefit operators, DoT has allotted spectrum in 900 mhz band during 2002-03 beyond 6.2 mhz contrary to its own order of February 2002 that additional spectrum beyond 6.2 mhz would be alloted in 1800 mhz band.Moreover, in 2004 , the then minister Arun Shourie had reduced the licence fee by 2 per cent in terms of AGR for all the operators and by further 2 per cent for the first and second operators, resulting in conservatively estimated loss of Rs 900 crore by Arun Shourie himself.

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