Vyapam and Jio

Scams — Old and New

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

The present Central Government and its paid media are hungry for detection of scams, except its own. While they are so vocal about the corruption of Congress, and Kejriwal, Lalu Prasad they conveniently forget the monumental VYAPAM scam in Madhya Pradesh, where one BJP government under the stewardship of Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been in power for a long time. Similarly, they are silent on the issue of previous Congress regime corruption in Assam, as the scams stars of that government, including the minister Hemant Biswa of the present cabinet, were members of the Congress government also.

The CBI enquiry is progressing in a snail’s pace. The Judiciary has not taken any proactive step. Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) recently took the state government into task, for indulging in “systematic subversion of rules’’. But Mr Clean and his holy men are maintaining subversive silence on the issue. In fact, the MP government, initially denied CAG audit in ‘‘Professional Examination of Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal”, on the plea that that it was not a government body, though government appoints its Chairman, Director, controller from the pool of state government officers.

The scam ruined the career of and even lives of thousands of young medical aspirants and other categories of professionals recruited through its process, even after the news broke, still no data is maintained on the number of exams conducted, showing ‘opacity in recruitment’ and erosion of credibility. The irregularities were time and again reported from 2009, from 2013, the real magnitude became public. The whistle blowers reported well entrenched and wide ranging nexus that used diverse means to cheat. These involve, impersonation of candidates, leaking answers and papers to favoured candidates, tampering with answer sheets, to allow enhancement of marks, allowing weak candidates to copy from the better prepared fellow candidates. The investigations by police, then by special task force, and finally by CBI raised serious questions and allegations. But no concrete evidence emerged about the real brains and power behind such racket. The allegations of the whistle blower covered even the CM Mr  Chauhan, and other well known BJP leaders of the state, which resulted in the death of 45 witnesses and accused, under mysterious circumstance. It further strengthens doubt about the power of the men in position, connected with the scam.

 The national media slightly shook off their peaceful slumber, only after one of their colleagues was killed, but that too was short-lived, as the men in power just silenced them. Even the main whistle blower is now hounded by fear for life, as he is a small fry. Thousands of young people are facing an insecure future, as the investigation is now aimless. The indifference of civil society is also painful. This VYAPAM scam exposed the lack of accountability and impunity that rules the Indian politics.

People saw the bill board displaying the photo of PM, Narendra Modi carrying an advertisement of Reliance Jio, just prior to the demonetisation announcement. With the announcement of Note ban exercise, cell phone market woke up with the announcement of Free Jio sim offer. The subscribers grabbed it and other market operators were placed in a fix by a steady loss of market share.

It all started seven years ago , when 3rd generation (3G) and 4th Generation (4G) spectrum was auctioned. The department allowed Reliance to acquire one obscure firm called Infotel Broadband Services Pvt Ltd (IBSPL), which won a bid to acquire 4G spectrum. At that very time, in a draft report, the CAG accused Reliance for violating auction norms. The firm was controlled by Mahendra Nahata, who became a director of Jio after the merger.

Another recent important development is the merger of Vodafone, a London based MNC and Idea Cellular Services of Aditya Birla group. But nobody was convinced with the arguments cited in favour of the mega merger, as they were enjoying a 40 % market share and a 20 crore customer base with this development, the secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DOT), Mr J S Deepak, wrote a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI), highlighting how the debt burden of IT sector had gone up sharply, after the entry of Jio and its promotional offers. He apprehended that rising debt levels could jeopardise the flow of government revenue, and also hurt the Banks, which have a 4.6 crore exposure to the sector. And the apprehension of government revenue loss was substantiated by the statement of Manoj Sinha, Minister of communications, during a question hour session in Parliament on 29th March last that the revenue earning in the 3rd quarter (Oct - Dec) fell to Rs 3450.13 crore against Rs 3957.67 crore during the first quarter (Apr -June). In addition, spectrum usage charges collected by DOT fell from Rs 1995.2 crore in the first quarter to Rs 1553.17 crore in the third quarter. He however dodged the charge of fall by some other pretext.

Consequently, Mr Deepak was immediately transferred to another insignificant department, with a less sensitive assignment. For last six months cellular operators like Airtel and Vodafone had been complaining to Trai, about the unethical and anti-competitive practices. On 2nd April Director General of Cellular Operations of India (COAI) told  PTI that Jio’s latest pricing strategy would “bleed’’ the industry. Director Ajoy Shah said, what looks like a gift to the consumers is often a plan to achieve market power, and recoup the gains by extracting high consumer surplus in future, though the game plan of Reliance did not succeed as desired due to high exit rate, still, the writing on the wall is clear and alarming. Everyone knows that this Reliance was accused of ‘great gas robbery’ from the reserve of ONGC, in Krishna Godavari (KG) basin. Both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, time and again expressed their anguish over the clout the Reliance group enjoyed in the corridors of power in influencing policies and appointments, thus flouting all norms and principles. And they are now feeling the heat of the unfair competition. So, the mega merger, and more mergers may be on the anvil.

Vol. 49, No.52, Jul 2 - 8, 2017