Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2G, Coal corruption charges crumbling....

The newspapers dont always highlight these developments. Hence it becomes important to write about them in a blog like this. For those who care for the truth, the message is that corruption allegations in 2G and Coal were mostly bogus. Those exaggerated claims made by the CAG - Rs 1.76 lac crores for 2G and Rs 1.86 lac crores for coal - were just figments of it's imagination.

Take 2G. The CAG concocted the concept of "notional loss to the exchequer" and put a value of Rs 1.76 lac crores to the 2G spectrum sale undertaken in 2008 by Raja. The BJP then spun this number into a "mota maal" theory of corruption. Illiterate, but politically savvy, activists of Anna's team then mounted a series of fasts and rallies and put the tag of "the most corrupt government" on the UPA. All of these were supported by a sensation seeking media, which failed miserably in sifting the grain from the chaff. Ordinary citizens, who rely entirely on media for information, were brainwashed into believing all. Collectively, the pillars of our democracy, conspired to taint a ruling government with drummed up charges. Its a different issue that the government was incapable of defending itself, a fact which cost it its credibility.

Someone has to stand for the truth. And this blog aims to do just that. So let's look at 2G and Coal and see where the matters stand.

In 2G, the government "preferred" to give spectrum cheap to telecom operators in 2008. It preferred to lose revenues, so that consumers - especially the poorest of the poor who had not till then benefitted from the telecom revolution - could get services cheap. In order to ensure this, it encouraged massive competition....as many as 12 per circle. And exactly as planed, Indian tariffs plummetted and became the lowest in the world, with talk rates as low as half paise per minute. This led to a huge increase in teledensity, with 900+ million Indians embracing this life-changing technology. Did the government lose revenues? Of course it did. Was this the first time the government was losing revenues to benefit the public? Not at all. The government's fuel subsidy (or any subsidy for that matter) is exactly the same. It loses more than Rs 1 lac crore a year so that consumers pay less. This is not corruption. The true test of corruption is to check the profitability of companies and see if they are making "windfall" profits. The fact is that the number 2 operator, Vodafone, broke even after being in India for 15 years. Reliance, the no 4 operator is still struggling. And the leader Airtel last reported some 30% type EBITDA margins for its India ops - not a great number considering the huge debt pile on its books. If the corporates were not making profits, the consumers must have been. And that's why this decision of cheap spectrum was a case of "policy" and not "corruption".

The other question is of how new entrants "sold" equity in their "yet to become operational" companies to foreign entities at "huge valuations". True....but what no one bothered to highlight is that the "seller" did not take a single paisa home. The money brought in by the foreigner went into the company....and was used to fund roll-outs, operational losses, interest charges, government fees etc. There was no profit....in fact as the Voda example shows, it would take years to make profits. The hyper competition in the sector made the path to profitability even longer. Most common people never understand such details, and an irresponsible media - many of whom have benefitted from similar deals themselves - never bothered to explain.

In any case, after two failed rounds of auctions, the truth about the market value of the spectrum has now emerged. The notional loss to the government was not Rs 1.76 lac crores, but some Rs 45,000 odd crores. To repeat my earlier point, this was money transferred from government to the people. Not corruption....but just a government policy. Hate the Congress for it's economic policies.....and I have no problem. But call them corrupt for this....and I will fight it tooth and nail.

Take coal. The first chargesheet has been filed a couple of days back, and the CBI has clearly stated there was no case of corruption. Yes, the corporate involved - Navbharat - had fudged figures to prove eligibility. This is a crime alright, and maybe some babus and politicians were involved, but these are randomized cases of small-scale corruption. Nothing of the order of Rs 1.86 lac crores. And the BJP is as complicit in such acts of corruption as the Congress. Also, lets not forget....it was the PM who initiated the process of switching away from "screening committees" to "auctions". It was the state governments - many of the BJP but also of other parties - that opposed the auctions. Why did they oppose? Why let them off the hook? If it took 5 years to implement auctions, we should certainly question the time it took, but lets place the blame where it belongs. The one who initiates change, cannot be the one who is corrupt.

In both coal and 2G, local cases of corruption must have taken place. That's the reality of Indian politics and we must find ways to eliminate it. But to say that the Congress government orchestrated massive corruption is dirty politics, apart from being factually wrong. Its OK for the BJP to make such allegations.....its a valid political strategy after all.....but its not OK for constitutional bodies like the CAG and others like the media to become a part of it.

One last point on the Adarsh scam. Sure, there appears to be corruption in this case. But please pause and think if this is the only building in Mumbai in which corruption charges exist. The fact is that the real estate market in business is full of dubious practices and all parties - most notably the BJP and Shiv Sena - are deeply entrenched in the real estate business. Why single out Adarsh?

The real truth is that with passage of time, the truth is starting to emerge. 2G was not a scam at all. It was a preferred government policy which benefitted the people directly. Coal was not a scam....it was a case of implementation delay (of auctions). Adarsh was a scam....but hardly the only building in Mumbai that should be singled out. Most corruption charges were political in design. Fuelled by a politically motivated CAG, and an irresponsible media....

No comments:

Post a Comment