The BSNL Telephone Line Scam: A Revenue Loss of Rs 440 Crore

The BSNL telephone line scam is still an open criminal case which was exposed in 2007. The prime alleged in the scam was the then Telecom Minister of Chennai, Dayanidhi Maran (a member of the DMK party) and several BSNL officials. Under orders of the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been conducting a probe in the scam since 2011. Finally CBI has unearthed enough evidence to establish the crime by  Maran and the involved BSNL officials. The formal inquiry of CBI is now a regular criminal case, the FIR for which was lodged on October 1, 2013.

The BSNL telephone line scam

The scam perpetrated by Maran in collusion with the BSNL officials inflicted a revenue loss of Rs. 440 crore on the BSNL and the government. Maran, during his tenure as the telecommunications minister in Chennai, had deceitfully installed 323 high-speed telephone connections at his residence (3/1 Boat Club Road, Chennai), in cahoots with the corrupt BSNL officials. These connections were installed in the name of the Chief General Manager of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to give the fake appearance of the service being used strictly for official purposes. With the cooperation of the corrupt BSNL officials, the said lines were excluded from the general telephone network and also from the records of BSNL. But the felonious activities of Maran did not end here. Maran’s brother is the owner of the Sun TV Network. This miniature personal ‘telephone exchange’ of Maran was conjoined to the Sun TV office using a cable connection apportioned for data transfer, where the communications facilities were being exploited for commercial purposes. Later enquiries confirmed that the telephone lines illicitly installed in Maran’s residence were actually ISDN connections capable of handling voluminous data transfer at high speed.

This facility was being used by Sun TV in operations like video conferencing and relaying of signals across the satellite TV network. Under normal circumstances, Sun TV would have had to pay an exorbitant amount for using government-sanctioned ISDN facilities for transmitting satellite TV signals. However, courtesy to Maran, Sun TV got the entire service on the house at the cost of BSNL, deliberating an exchequer loss of Rs 440 crore.

Reluctance of the authorities to take any action in the BSNL telephone line scam

The legal authorities have turned a deaf ear to the repeated complaints regarding the existence of a personal, miniature ‘telephone exchange’ in Maran’s residence and its alleged abuse even after four years of scam exposure. The media got hold of the scam in 2010. The CBI enquiry was actuated in 2011. On 11th January, 2013 the Supreme Court was jolted into action by a plea from the chartered accountant S. Gurumurthy, accusing Maran of fraudulent activities. The complaint was filed with a Bench of Justices chaired by Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai. In the ensuing developments, the apex court emphatically directed the CBI to conduct an investigation into the entire scam under strict observance of the court. It is to be noted here that corruption has permeated into our judicial system as well, because even after the scam was unraveled and was sticking out like a sore thumb, no legal authorities were taking any step against it.

Even the petitioner (S. Gurumurthy) had to wait for ten months to get any tangible results. Weary of the ignorance of the authorities, Gurumurthy finally resorted to a written communication with the CBI Director, querying about the delayed justice in the said case, on February 15th, 2012. The communication was accompanied by pertinent evidences and articles that were in the custody of the petitioner. As Gurumurthy claimed, “It is evident that despite the passage of more than five years, since the time CBI first wrote to D. S. Mathur, the then Secretary (DOT), on September 10, 2007, enclosing a self-contained note, explaining the modus operandi of the scam, (and) even after the public expose and further after the petitioner wrote to the CBI, the investigation stands where it was in September 2007, stymied and scuttled”. He further added, “The actions of the government in scuttling/attempts to scuttle the investigations are arbitrary, malafide and illegal. The rule of law requires a thorough investigation into this huge scam that has cost the exchequer Rs. 440 crore, directed and monitored by this court”.

The 2G scam of Maran

Deceiving BSNL and using its facilities to meet his own personal purposes is not the only crime perpetrated by the corrupt minister. Maran has also been alleged of compelling a certain C. Sivasankaran, a telecom advocator and businessman from Chennai, to barter Aircel shares with a certain T. Ananda Krishnan, owner of the Kuala Lumpur-based Maxis Group, in 2006. This Malaysian deal was highly controversial and the Supreme Court authorized a CBI enquiry into the matter. Stressing on the fact that a year has elapsed since the filing of the case, the decision of the Supreme Court bench of Judges was one and unanimous, “This matter must be brought to an end to a logical conclusion”. The Supreme Court had also approved of CBI’s plea of empowering the agency with the special capacities for investigating a highly placed politician (under section 6A Delhi Special Police Establishment — DSPE). The CBI completed its inquiries by July despite the total non-cooperation from the Maxis Group, which caused unnecessary delay in the investigation. As per the hearing on this case on 1st August 2013, the Supreme Court had expressly directed the agency to frame the charge sheet against the perpetrators of the controversial Aircel-Maxis deal within a period of two months.

The confirmation of the indictment of Maran and his partners in crime–the corrupt BSNL officials, the then CGM K. Bramhanatham, and MP Veluswamy–finally came on 1st October 2013 when the CBI filed a formal FIR against them. With the Aircel-Maxis deal currently under investigation by the CBI, Maran may find himself between a rock and a hard place in the near future. But it is also to be kept in mind that Maran has a reach in the high places, evident from the fact that he had effectively stymied all investigations into a scam that lay open for five years in front of the public, the media, not to mention the legal authorities. A jail sentence is nothing for highly placed politicians because jail is just a home away from home for them.

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