Telecom Scam: Does the Nation Deserve an Apology?

subramanianl

Memory is a strange thing. In a chaotic democracy like ours, it is a scarce commodity.

Just a few monsoons back, the country was rocked by a report released by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on telecom licensing that the media quickly termed as the ‘telecom scam’.

Now, let us understand this correctly. The CAG is a constitutional body and a purportedly independent arm of the executive. According the CAG report, the presumptive loss incurred by the government exchequer due to the 2G and 3G auctions was pegged at Rs.1,76,000 Crore! This naturally led to a massive hue and cry across the country with the opposition parties demanding everything from the resignation of the Prime Minister to the dissolution of the Parliament. Parliament sessions were blocked, new Bills were not allowed to pass, there was general din in the floor of the house and our honorable Members of Parliament, who at the best of times, behave like petulant children, suddenly got a license to behave like neighborhood thugs, which they executed flawlessly. Supreme Court was seized of the matter and the Hon. Court, in one fell swoop, cancelled as many as 122 licenses that the CAG accused were granted inappropriately

If anything, that was the beginning of the policy paralysis that we have been seeing in the government till date. Since then, we have seen the coal scam; the missing files scam… and so on.

Cut to this morning… the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended a drastic slashing of the base price of the 2G spectrum that is to be auctioned in thenear future, by as much as 60%.  Thus, the base price for Delhi and Mumbai comes down by as much as 55% and 57% respectively. Further, TRAI chief Rahul Khullar, a former mandarin from the bureaucracy himself, has even suggested that the CAG figure of Rs.1.76 lakh crore presumptive losses were not exactly based on sound economic principles. Sure enough, the industry has welcomed the move and grapevine seems to suggest that there could be some relief for the long-beleaguered telecom industry in the medium run.

However, the bigger issue is something else…

Why have all those political parties its leaders, who were baying for the Prime Minister’s blood, suddenly gone silent? How come the principal opposition party, which counts amongst its stalwarts, some of the more intelligent and knowledgeable members in both finance and telecom, isn’t falling over each other crying ‘blasphemy’ at the TRAI chief’s rulings?

Why are the high-decibel anchors moderating real time news on television and who were trotting out these figures as hard facts while demanding that the nation needed an answer,now studiously avoiding this issue of a less-than-factual CAG report? If there was any issue of criminality, the court was anyway examining it. Prosecution would have followed, as is its wont.

Like we said at the beginning, memory is a scarce commodity.

Nobody wants to talk about this today because it is no longer a political expediency. It is no longer a tool to stop the functioning of the government. There are better tools now, such as riots and killings. Why bother with a report that most knew was probably incorrect and anyway irrelevant now!

Never mind if by their shenanigans, they had wrought great damage to the economy. What was once an example of prosperous India, cutting across the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban, our reverent political class had reduced it to a status of a sick industry and the laughing stock of the world. A thriving, growing industry has been reduced to huge mountain of debt and a concomitant spell of financial instability.

In any civilized society, when one’s wrongdoing is exposed, one is expected to stand up and apologize.

The operative word here is ‘Civilized’ society!