Advertisement

  • News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

I Was Just Doing My Job

Taking on A. Raja ... Niira Radia, P. Chidambaram ... the entire telecom sector and all the mightiest corporates in India was not part of the plan

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

1516777946_IKvZlK_network-tower-shutterstock_470.jpg

I was working with The Times of India in 2007, covering several sectors, of which telecom was one. In the course of daily reporting, I found myself inadvertently documenting not a scam, but the detailed script of a scam — one that was yet to take place.

Every story I wrote unfolded a sinister reality — about administrative, political, legal and corporate culpability at the highest levels. It was unimaginably scary and a nightmare I didn’t want to be in. Every story invited a powerful adversary, which eventually became an army, all standing together against one individual — me.

Taking on A. Raja, or his sinister aide, R. K. Chandolia, Niira Radia, P. Chidambaram, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the PMO, Solicitor General, Ghoolam Vahanvati, government law officers, leading private lawyers, the entire telecom sector and all the mightiest corporates in India was not part of the plan. I was just a journalist doing her job. But because it was investigative work which was 100 per cent accurate, all that just came with the package.  

Anyway, I couldn’t stop myself and somehow, all these “powerful” people couldn’t stop me either. So, despite the fact that almost all my own colleagues were also found standing with the enemy, which made my work very, very difficult, I managed to document between 2007-2014, every single aspect of what is now known as the Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G scandal - the award of 2G spectrum licences in a highly preferential manner on January 10, 2008.

The very first article, indicating that the Rs 1,651 crore entry fee was “ridiculously low” and could attract “an army of bounty hunters” was written on October 3, 2007 – a month before Raja revealed his devious plans to Manmohan Singh on November 2, 2007 and three months before the scam. Articles on October 11, 2007, ‘DoT gets 575 applications for mobile licenses’, on October 24, 2007, ‘Spectrum policy flawed’, on October 27, 2007, ‘Auctions most transparent way of distributing 2G spectrum’, on November 5, 2007, ‘DoT grapples with spectrum woes’, on November 6, 2007, ‘Auctions unfair, Raja tells PM’, on November 9, 2007, ‘DoT asked to process license applications’, on November 12, 2007, ‘DoT may leave 26 applicants in lurch’ and on December 7, 2007, ‘DoT ready to offer LoIs’.  

The article ‘Ministries don’t buy DoT argument’ identified the fact that Raja was about to illegally advance the cut-off date from October 1 to September 25, 2007, to place a cap of 121 licences out of 575 applications while intending to claim that he would follow the TRAI recommendations that there be ‘no cap’. The articles also laid out the controversy of changing the order of priority by manipulating the FCFS policy of the government. This was done nearly three weeks before the scam, in an article on December 24, 2007 titled, ‘Fee payment date key for telecom license seekers’. I also exposed the dissent within Raja’s team on December 27, 2007, ‘DoT wing warns Raja on LoI’s’.  

As soon as the Swan and Unitech transactions yielded windfall gains, I was the first to point out on October 30, 2008, ‘Valuations reveal loss of government’, and on November 1, 2008, ‘Telco deals show enterprise value: DoT experts say they are for spectrum’. These articles estimated the loss at Rs 45,000 crore from the Swan and Etisalat transactions. Following this expose, Raja on November 5, 2007 decided to prohibit sale of promoters’ equity. Two years later, the Comptroller And Auditor General (CAG), in its report, independently arrived at the same figure of loss from the 122 licences arising out of the Swan and Unitech deals. Similarly, immediately post the 3G auctions, my detailed article of May 31, 2010, ‘Not auctioning 2G spectrum cost government over 1 lakh crores’, indicated a loss of roughly Rs 1,02,511 crore at 3G prices. Again, the CAG independently arrived at this figure six months later.

One would expect that a journalist whose stories were tumbling out 100 per cent   accurate and making the national capital rumble on a daily basis, would earn some respect. It was just the reverse. To my surprise, my colleagues were the most annoyed. They would either avoid me altogether or approach me with aggression, carrying intent to humiliate. Most of them also started to occupy themselves full- time with presenting the government’s version. Suddenly journalists who barely had to do a stroke of work to survive in the profession, were busy - really busy.  

The Press Trust of India (PTI) stood out as the busiest media machinery countering my investigative work. For every story, there would be an “exclusive news break” by the evening, which was basically nothing but the reproduction of the government counter under the PTI banner. Ironically, most of these “journalists” eventually either joined the 2G tainted telecom firms as Corporate Communication heads, or later ended up in senior roles in the PR industry.

So while everyone else was either making money hand-over-fist, or becoming professionally relevant for the first time in their lives by associating in the business of either countering or supporting the 2G scam, the opposite was true of me. I was persona non grata — an untouchable.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Shalini Singh

The author is an independent investigative journalist who broke the 2 G Scam story, among various other stories

More From The Author >>