People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 50

December 12, 2010


PM’s Office Silent on WiMax Franchise Issue


Prasanta Chatterjee


ANYONE, who is interested in the mystery of WiMax franchise, may go through the website of Starnet Communications. On their website, the Starnet Communications say that “Starnet Communications Pvt Ltd, formerly known as AMPOULES & AUTO PVT LTD established since 1958 at Kolkata, West Bengal, India to provide project consultancy for the emerging auto industry.”


In reply to an Unstarred Question No 1558 dated March 11, 2010, the minister of state in the ministry of communication and information technology informed Rajya Sabha that “The government has short-listed four companies to fight for state-run telecom giant BSNL's franchisees on it latest WiMax. The four short-listed companies are Teracom, Take Solutions, Adishwar India and Ampoules & Auto”. The government confirmed the information in the Rajya Sabha. In a written reply, the minister of state for communications and IT, Gurudas Kamat, informed that the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) had been passed the names of those four companies. He also said that all these companies had successfully fulfilled the bidding norms set by the franchisor that they must be registered in India for more than two years and must have a minimum turnover of Rs 100 crore in each of the last two years. Companies providing WiMax operation in foreign countries were also allowed to bid with the condition that they submit an undertaking before signing the agreement with BSNL. The minister anticipated that the BSNL would soon start other formalities to begin the process.


Interestingly, M/s Starnet’s name was nowhere there in the bidding process.


On November 26, 2009, Ampoules & Auto Pvt. Ltd declared that “Ampoules & Auto Pvt Ltd is glad to inform that it has participated successfully in the BSNL WiMax tender bid dated November 25, 2009 in Chennai.”


On November 30, 2009, Ampoules & Auto Pvt Ltd declared that “Ampoules & Auto Pvt Ltd would like to inform that” the company’s name had been changed and that it is now known as Starnet Communications Pvt Ltd.


The question is: Was M/s Ampoules and Auto Pvt Ltd eligible for short-listing?


At the outset, one feels puzzled to note that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) short-listed a company for WiMax franchise who would be providing project consultancy for the emerging auto industry during the bidding process.


Clause 1.1 of the tender number CGMP/CHI/EOI-WiMAX(e)Tender.2009-10/1 dated June 4, 2009, stipulated thus stipulated the condition: “Original Equipment Manufacturer / System Integrator having a turnover of at least 100 crore for the last two financial years and meeting other eligibility conditions as stipulated in EOI document are eligible for biding.”


So, in the very first instance, Ampoules and Auto Pvt Ltd should have beenn declared disqualified for bidding since the company was not an “Original Equipment Manufacturer / System Integrator” at the time of bidding.


Again, from the copies of the annual returns submitted by Ampoules and Auto Pvt Ltd, it transpires that the company did not have a turnover of 100 crore during any of the last two financial years.


Inspite of these hard facts, M/s Ampoules and Auto Pvt Ltd was short-listed for WiMax franchise.


Out of curiosity, an enquiry was made at 114A, Madan Mohan Burman Street, Kolkata 700 007, the office address given for M/s Ampoules and Auto Pvt Ltd. Strangely, the people living at the given address had never heard of any such company at the aforesaid address.


On August 30, 2010, several members of parliament including myself wrote to the prime minister to demand an enquiry. The letter was followed by another two letters to the prime minister on October 22, 2010 and November 30, 2010. Only the first two letters were acknowledged by the prime minister. So far, no enquiry has been ordered.


Now, a print media report says that an enquiry is being conducted by the chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) into the matter of WiMax franchise.


The logical conclusion is this.


If the said media report is true, this involves something unethical since the present CVC was secretary of the DoT during the period when the WiMax franchise was decided and, as such, the question of a conflict of interests come in the way.


The entire opposition in both the houses of parliament is today demanding the constitution of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe into the 2G and 3G spectrum scams. Now, this is an added issue that needs to be enquired.


Since the very functioning of the DoT during the period of A K Raja is under clout while Raja is constantly defending himself, stating that what had been done was in the knowledge of the prime minister’s office (PMO). The matter needs to be examined by a JPC only, as the public accounts committee (PAC) can examine the case only on the basis of the comptroller and auditor general’s report on 2G spectrum allocation but the case of WiMax franchise was beyond the scope of the CAG.


Will the government show enough courage to constitute a joint parliamentary committee?