telecom India

That is what every farmer does after the harvest. But, having left farming some generations back, perhaps we have lost the art of winnowing. Perhaps, it is the overwhelming power of the media that leads us to believe that anything that appears on the bright screen or the dull paper does not need to be winnowed. Facts are not monoliths – they are composites; that is, each fact consists of many smaller related facts.When the media disguises it as one single event, we lose our acuity of vision.

telecom India

2G Scam

I would like to take up just one issue to illustrate why we need to sort facts before deciding between right and wrong : the 2G scam. The government was accused of illegally undercharging mobile telephony companies for frequency allocation licenses in 2008. The loss to the national exchequer as a result of the undercharging is pegged by the CAG- Comptroller and Auditor General of India – at Rs 1.76 lakh crores. The estimate of loss is based on 3G and BWA spectrum auction prices in 2010.

As I look at it, the scam consists of two components : one, the fact that the spectrum was allocated on first-come-first served basis, instead of on the basis of an auction; two, the allegation that the process was tweaked to deliver the spectrum to certain telecom companies which had bribed the allocating authority (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) or the ministry in control of that authority (Telecom Ministry) or the Minister in that ministry (A Raja).

Telecom Spectrum Scam

That the spectrum was allocated on first-come-first served basis, instead of on the basis of an auction is a fact. Was that wrong ? The answer will depend on some fundamental issues about pricing of national resources. So you cannot prima-facie call it a scam. Let us talk about this issue of pricing of national resources, with a special reference to the 2G spectrum, at some other time, as that requires a profound discussion.

The second component is definitely a scam if it is proved that the allocation process was tweaked to deliver the spectrum to certain telecom companies that had bribed.

But crying hoarse about the fact that the spectrum was not auctioned, brandishing the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crores loss based on 3G and BWA spectrum auction prices, is definitely wrong. The fact that it was computed by CAG does not make it any holier.