New Delhi, Nov 18: The Cabinet Secretariat has begun investigating the nexus between senior bureaucrats and corporate lobbyists, says a Times of India report.
Four former bureaucrats are under serious scrutiny for their links with a powerful lobbyist, according to top-level officials in the government, who did not wish to be named.
The lobbyist in focus is Nira Radia. Her public relations and lobbying business includes Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, Noesis Strategic Consulting Services, Vitcom Consulting, and NeUCom Consulting.
The bureaucrats are: former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman and disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal; former economic affairs secretary C M Vasudev; former industrial policy and promotion secretary Ajay Dua and former Trai member D P S Seth. The Cabinet Secretariat is examining their connections with Radia's Noesis.
Radia is part of an escalating multi-agency probe into allocation of 2G spectrum and licences to ineligible corporates at below-market rates. The controversy has cost DMK's A Raja his job as communications minister and has been the subject of a scathing indictment by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the premier government auditor.
The Enforcement Directorate (which investigates foreign exchange violations), CBI and income tax have been on Radia's trail for a while now. They have been examining the banking transactions, including cash withdrawals, of Radia and her firms to establish if she used money to influence those in decision-making positions.
As part of the same investigation, the ED is also looking into the role of Noesis Consultancy in the grant of telecom licences to private operators in 2008. And in October 2009, the CBI, on the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)'s prompting, registered a criminal case against "unknown persons" for conspiring in the allotment of 2G spectrum to cause loss to the exchequer.
This paper carried reports in September and October of this year (as did others) about the ED seeking Radia's response to specific questions related to the spectrum scam, as well as asking her to appear before it. Since she didn't, citing health reasons, the directorate is expected to issue her fresh summons.
With the Supreme Court turning up the heat on the government on the spectrum scam, and the CAG severely censuring Raja and corporates for their role in it, government officials indicate there is a growing urgency to probe Radia's role.
As for the four bureaucrats who are allegedly linked to her, the fact that their case will be placed before the group of secretaries (GoS) in its next meeting indicates a certain seriousness on the part of the government.
Cases against top bureaucrats are generally handled by the GoS headed by the cabinet secretary and comprising secretaries from the CVC, department of personnel and training (DoPT), the PMO and the secretary (coordination) in the Cabinet Secretariat.
Only those allegations are referred to the GoS that have some substance to them and have already been vetted by the investigative agencies or the CVC. The complaints are often referred to it by the PMO, CVC or DoPT. The Cabinet Secretariat, on its part, scrutinizes relevant files and records and seeks the opinion of the ministries concerned prior to placing them before the GoS. If a scrutiny of records reveals there is no substance to the allegation, the matter is closed and not referred to the GoS.