Sibal takes on Shourie, orders VSNL deal probe

Pallavi Ghosh | Updated: March 22, 2011, 10:09 PM IST

New Delhi: Stung by Wikileaks on cash-for-votes, the Congress strikes back with the VSNL land divestment deal.

And the target of the attack is Arun Shourie, the divestment minister in the NDA government before he moved to telecom.

The Outlook Magazine cover expose on the VSNL DIVESTMENT IN 2002 said it was sugar coated for the Tatas and Shourie gifted them almost 773 acres of land.

According to the Outlook story, in 2002, Tatas acquired 25 per cent stake in VSNL without ownership rights to the land. The company took another 20 per cent stake through a mandatory open offer.

Land was to be demerged and the money was supposed to go to the original stakeholders in VSNL before the divestment. That means the Government and other investors were to benefit and not the Tatas.

In 2004, just before the May general elections, Ratan Tata wrote a private letter to then telecom minister Arun Shourie asking for surplus land to be given to VSNL.

BJP is voted out and the attorney general Milon Banerjee told the new UPA Government that Tatas was not interested in hiving off prime land, including in Delhi Pune, Kolkata and Chennai.

The government has ordered a probe and telecom crusader Rajeev Chandrashekhar said
corporate and political interests are converging once again.

"Certain corporates, working in collusion with the political leadership and the Government have disproportionately being benefiting from public policies, from Government policies and administrative actions," said Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Additional documents with CNN-IBN now exposes how even the UPA's telecom ministers seemed to have turned a blind eye to take the land away from the Tatas.

A finance ministry note dated May 17, 2007 revealed that even the UPA Government, under Dayanidhi Maran's tenure, was sitting on the issue and did nothing to investigate the giving away of the surplus land. The note asked why despite a CCEA decision on December 22, 2005 and why was DOT being tardy in implementing CCEA decision?

Arun Shourie, however, smells a witch hunt.

"The Government has to answer, what it was doing for the past six years," said Arun Shourie.

In this cat and mouse game on corruption, its clear that the UPA has decided to hit back. It's trying to pay back the NDA in the same coin.

Telecom ministry sources say that the committee will submit a report by March 31 and will put an estimated value to the land. At current value the land is put at Rs 6000 crore. There are many questions that Tatas, Shourie and even Maran have to answer. The UPA Government also cannot wash it hands off completely.

First Published: March 22, 2011, 10:09 PM IST

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