Minister steals a telephone exchange, loots BSNL - S Gurumurthy

Indeed a shocking, daring robbery. A telecom central minister from Tamil
Nadu got the BSNL to connect 323 telephone lines to his home, not in Delhi
where he had work, but in Chennai where he had none. He got all the 323
home lines listed not in his name but in the name of the Chief General
Manager BSNL Chennai. These lines virtually constituted a telephone
exchange in the minister's home. It was exclusively used for his family
business by laying 3.4 km long secret cable along public roads to connect
the lines to the business premises. This had caused huge loss to BSNL. Who
was that enterprising minister? The infamous A Raja? No. It is the famous
Dayanidhi Maran; Raja's predecessor, now the central Textile Minister. The
CBI, which probed the fraud, wrote to the Secretary Telecom on 10.9.2007
recommending action against Maran for the fraud.

Dayanidhi Maran was obviously not playing marbles with 323 telephones. He
got the BSNL to lay separate and exclusive underground cable from his Boat
Club home to the SUN TV office at Anna Arivalayam in Anna Salai and
fraudulently linked the 323 home lines to his brother Kalanidhi's SUN TV
network. The first 23 of the 323 lines bore numbers '243722 11' to
'24372301' and the next 300 lines bore numbers '24371500' to '24371799'.
Since the first four digits '2437' were common for all 323 lines, the lines
constituted a home telephone exchange. The Dayanidhi home exchange was
operational in the SUN TV establishment for at least months from January
2007 through the fraudulent cable connection from Dayanidhi's Boat Club
home. They were no ordinary telephone lines, but costly ISDN lines, which
could carry tons and tons of TV news and programmes faster than satellites
to any part of the world. These lines, the CBI says in its report, are
"normally used by medium to large commercial enterprises to meet special
needs such as video conferencing, transmission of huge volume of digital
data of audio and video" – precisely the facility that SUN TV would need
for its telecasting operations. For this, the SUN TV would have paid huge
cost. But it got it all free, at government's cost.

The Maran home exchange, says the CBI, was "programmed in such a way that
no one other than the authorised BSNL staff were aware of the existence of
such an Exchange created for his [minister's] exclusive use". It added that
by linking the minister's home and SUN TV office by the stealthy cables,
"it would appear as if the lines were used in the residence of the former
minister, but actually the cables laid facilitated SUN TV network to
utilise the services of BSNL provided at his residence". Google map shows
the distance to SUN TV as 3.4 kms along the main artery roads of the area,
which were dug up to bury the illegal underground cables from Maran home to
SUN TV office! It was not one of those secret White Collar frauds, but a
crime committed in the open roads.

What could be the probable loss to the exchequer by this fraud? On "a
sample study", the CBI says, "it is learnt that 48,72,027 units of calls
have emanated from [just] one Telephone No 24371515 in the month of March
2007 alone, which is indicative of the massive multimedia transfer in the
underlying connections". Just one of the 323 lines accounted for over 48
lakh call units in March 2007 alone – Yes almost 49 lakh call units in one
month, through one of the 323 phones! Assume that each of the 323
connections was put to use as efficiently as Marans had operated the Number
24371515; the total number of call units SUN TV would have unlawfully
robbed the BSNL during January 2007 to April 2007 [Maran resigned on May
13] could be as high as 629.5 crore call units. With the prevailing rate of
70 paise per call unit could the loss to BSNL be as high as `440 crore?
Only a thorough investigation can reveal the true loot. But, the story does
not end here. SUN TV's print cousin 'Dinakaran', too has got its share of
the loot. Says the CBI: "It is also learnt that similar service connections
with ISDN facilities have been provided at the office of Dinakaran, a Tamil
Daily, belonging to the group of SUN TV Network at Madurai, though specific
phone numbers are not available". But how did the CBI get to investigate
the fraud and where is its report now? It calls for a brief flash back.

Maran, a grand nephew of Karunanidhi, was the central telecom minister from
June 2004 to May 2007. Perhaps the only Hindi knowing family member, Maran
was Karunanidhi's eyes and ears in Delhi and his connect to Sonia Gandhi.
The 'young' and 'dynamic' minister was amongst the most powerful in the UPA
government of which the DMK was the most critical partner.

Telecom Ministry sitting on CBI report for over 44 months
Need an illustration for Maran's reach then? Not only could he threaten
Ratan Tata to part with a third of Tata DTH shares, but he also could
threaten him not to reveal that he had threatened him! But suddenly, Maran
fell from the cliff into the pit, thanks to a costly slip by Dinakaran, a
Tamil daily owned by Dayanidhi's brother Kalanidhi Maran. On 9.5.2007,
Dinakaran carried an opinion poll that had trashed Karunanidhi's son
Alagiri as non-entity in Tamil Nadu politics. Alagiri's angry supporters
burnt down the Madurai establishment of Dinakaran on the same day, snuffing
out the lives of three innocent staff. Karunanidhi sided with his son
Alagiri against his grand nephews, the Marans. Result, Dayanidhi was
instantly out of the DMK and the central ministry. It was then that the CBI
probed the daring fraud. And now back to the main story.

The CBI had recommended action against Maran as early as in September 2007.

But the CBI letter is obviously sleeping somewhere since then, and for the
last 44 months. The CBI letter had specifically asked the Telecom Secretary
to bring the matter "to the notice of" Raja. So the case against Maran of
DMK was to be approved by Raja also of DMK.

With the 2009 elections approaching, as was expected, warring nephews and
sons of Karunanidhi patched up on December 1, 2008, with Karunanidhi
saying, "my eyes grew moist and heart was content." The CBI letter was
perhaps used to make Marans fork out generous terms for peace. After the
2009 elections, Dayanidhi, who got elected, attempted again to make it to
the Telecom Ministry, but could not.

He became the Textile Minister instead; and he is so even now.

With the family feud subsiding, the CBI letter against Maran began
gathering dust somewhere in Telecom Ministry.Haunted by the 2-G scam, Raja
resigned in November 2010 and Kapil Sibal took over. Sibal is sitting on
the CBI report since then.

And Maran, as Textile Minister, is sitting in cabinet meetings along with
Sibal.And despite the CBI advice for action against Maran sleeping for over
44 months, now Prime Minister promises to Baba Ramdev that he would tackle
corruption with "seriousness" and "without delay", while he himself is
still sitting with Maran in cabinet meetings. It seems as much a comedy as
it is a tragedy.

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