Even as Dayanidhi Maran denies allegations of favouring any company when he was telecom minister in 2004-07, more evidence has surfaced that points to the contrary.
Hindustan Times is in possession of documents that show that Maran scrapped the rules he used to block telecom licences to enterpreuner C Sivasankaran, the Indian promoter of Aircel, till he sold the company to Maxis. Maxis is owned by Malaysia-based billionaire Ananda Krishnan, who has a decade-old business relationship with Sun TV, promoted by the Maran family. As soon as Sivasankaran exited, Maran changed the rules and helped Aircel get licences.
First reported by HT on February 14, Astro, a group company of Maxis, got the nod of the cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA) to invest Rs 675 crore in Sun TV. This was within four months of Dishnet Wireless (now merged into Aircel) being issued licences. The approval came on February 22, 2007, when Maran was minister for communications and IT.
Maran on Wednesday denied he was minister in the cabinet when Astro finally invested in Sun Direct in December 2007, though it is the CCEA approval that’s the most critical step in a transborder investment like this.
Dishnet applied for licences in April 2004 (in two circles) and in March 2005 (in five circles). The licences weren’t issued so long as the company was owned by Sivasankaran.
One of the reasons for the delay was that Maran got department of telecommunications (DoT) officials to seek a series of clarifications through showcause notices from the firm.
A March 30, 2005 note on grant of licences to Dishnet, signed by the telecom secretary, said: “Discussed with MOC&IT (minister). These files are returned with the direction that the director should ascertain all showcause notices/ advisory letters issued to the above company or companies belonging to the group and the nature of default before any view is taken.”
In other words, until Dishnet satisfied DoT officials about the notices, it would not be given a licence.
This, according to Justice Shivraj V Patil --- the one-man committee looking into the procedures of allotting 2G spectrum --- in his January 31 report, “was not warranted in terms of the laid down procedure”.
Once Sivasankaran exited the company in March 2006, Maran did an about turn and changed the rules --- in less than two months.
In a note that he signed on May 16, 2006, Maran said: "…it was felt that processing of application for grant of new licences should be de-linked from show cause notices or explanation call for or any other advisory issued to that company or any other sister/group company in respect of any other licences.”
In other words, Dishnet could now get the licences. Maran did not reply to emails sent to him on this story. He also did not answer SMS messages sent to him.
"The practice followed then for grant of UASL licence to any applicant was that the applicant company had to satisfy all prescribed conditions in respect of networth, funding pattern, business plan, debt-equity ratio etc,” Maran said in a press statement on Wednesday.
"The applicant company should also not have a history of default in payment/violation of licence conditions in any service area.” This, too, according to Patil committee report “was not warranted”.