Friday, January 7, 2011

Mr Sibal, looks like you read my first blog on 2G!

Finally, a good counter-argument was put out by Kapil Sibal today. Its based on exactly the same thoughts that I used in my opening post......the Real Truth behind the 2G scam!

Sibal has stated it brilliantly of course. Like a good lawyer that he is, he has found that the very basis of the case that the opposition has built is flawed. By stating that the government's policy was "public welfare" and not "making monies from telecom spectrum".....he has brought out an aspect of political strategy lost in the cynical minds of most people. By comparing it with "free land for infra projects", a practice followed even today (and one that all of us find acceptable), he has made his assertion more credible. By using the same CAG report's method, he has calculated the loss made during the NDA regime as Rs 2 lac crores......thus completely rubbishing the entire case built up the BJP and turning the tables on them.

Having interacted with the government on various issues related to radio license policy, I can state this from personal experience that the government (unbelievable as it may seem) does seem focused more on the aam aadmi than on raising revenues. With respect to the Phase III auction of FM radio licenses, the Minister of I&B has categorically expressed her opinion that the intention of the government was not to make money from radio licensing, but to extending the service to the widest possible population possible. The spectrum was to be given at a price which helped launch more and diverse programming smaller and smaller that people around the country could benefit from the entertainment provided by radio. In our cynical mindset, we simply cannot believe that such clean thinking is possible in today's dirty politics. It's not that the government is not doing good work.....its just that we......common citizens......simply cannot believe that's possible.

Its because of this cynicism that we have that we single out those CAG reports that seem to build on this pre-existing cynicism of ours. It is this same cynicism that TV channels exploit in building their TRPs. It's very similar in taste to the caste and religion-based politics that some political parties use to gain votes. It's as sinister in approach as exploiting a person's religious beliefs to get specific work done out of him/her.

At the end of the day, a question needs to be asked: How come no one doubted the CAG report itself? How come we implicitly assumed it to be correct? How come we question most other government agencies....the CBI for instance? How come we always believe that the cops do a bad job? There was once this TV channel which did a full show on the rape of a dalit woman in Noida, accusing the cops of also accused the cops of high-handed behavior put together 6 women's activists on the show, a breed very easy to locate because of its own need for publicity.....but later it was found that the cops had done nothing wrong.....the woman did have a history......this tv channel did not even report this later finding, forgetting apologizing to the people.

Isnt it possible that the CAG itself as a body made a mistake? That it came under political influence? The question is not about why the opposition took refuge under this CAG report (they will grab anything they get)......the question is why we, the people, bought into it. That's the real question to mull over. I think we have lost faith in government institutions. We believe the government does nothing good. While this may be true in many cases, we should not become cynical. A cynical junta only lowers the positivity in the country. It cannot help achieve progress. I also believe that an important reason for this cynicism is that the media has conducted itself irresponsibly. Under the garb of media independence, they have conduced themselves very poorly. The media never highlights the good work done by the government. The progress made in Bihar, Gujarat or Delhi is not highlighted. The 9% growth rate acheived is never discussed. These good stories do not generate TRPs......and as a reason of this constant badgering of the government, we have lost faith totally. We believe any and every damning news that's reported.

To end this post, I want to re-state what I wrote in my first post. a) That the low cost of spectrum enabled telecom companies to lower prices....and thus made this empowering technology available even to the really poor in the country. As a result of the telecom revolution, even unskilled labourers were able to generate work opportunities for themselves. Today, a plumber does not need an address....he just needs a phone number. b) That telecom companies have not made money because of cheap spectrum. The operating profit margins of Airtel are just about 30% and for all other telcos between 10-30%. This is the bare minimum requirement for an industry that has invested billions of dollars in rolling out their services. c) That this was the best possible way for the government to distribute public goods to the public. Imagine if the government had collected the Rs 1.7 lac crores extra through 2G auction......could it have used it as efficiently as it did through the private telecom companies or would it have lost at least 10% to pure corruption?

Does it mean that everything's clean in telecom? Of course not. Dont forget that we have become a 10% economy. Growing (soon hopefully!) @ 10% and corrupt @ 10% (since a hundred years)! We need to achieve the first and kill the second.

Good job done Mr. Sibal. Now make sure you push back hard! And keep reading my blog!

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