New Delhi, Jul 8: Rejecting charges of favouring Reliance Communications, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal today insisted that the penalty of Rs 5 crore imposed on it for interrupting services briefly was as per the agreement between USO Fund and the private operator.
He dismissed as “malicious, motivated and defamatory” the charges levelled against him by an NGO in a PIL filed in the Supreme Court that the company was imposed the penalty of Rs 5 crore against the Rs 650 crore as a favour.
Addressing a press conference here a day after the petition was filed, Sibal questioned the basis for computing the penalty as Rs 650 crore whereas the USO Fund itself had recommended a penalty of up to Rs 50 crore only.
“I am deeply grieved by what is happening by the PIL filed by an NGO in the Supreme Court stating that Telecom Minister has abused his power to reduce penalty on Reliance Telecom to Rs 5 crore,” an agitated minister said, adding that PILs should not be “used to settle personal score”.
Giving details of the issue, he said Reliance Telecom services were switched off for “whatever reasons” in November 2010 and on December 21, a show cause notice was issued to the company threatening imposition of “lumpsum” amount of Rs 50 crore as penalty for the same.
“The notice for Rs 50 crore was to pressurise the Reliance Telecom.... They got worried,” Sibal said, adding finally the services were restored on February 16, this year and the company paid a penalty of Rs 5.5 crore.
He maintained that the penalty was calculated on the basis of duration of disruption of services (7-45 days) as provided in the agreement between USO Fund and RCom.
Sibal also termed as “unfortunate” the allegations that he had over-ruled officials of his ministry, saying the government could not function this way that a minister cannot take a decision because he would be labelled as “dishonest and wanting to favour private parties”.
Sibal suggested that the PILs were being misused as they were meant only for serving public interest and “not to settle personal score”.
He, however, did not elaborate even when asked whether he felt he was deliberately being targeted. An application was filed in the Supreme Court by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) alleging that Sibal reduced the penalty from Rs 650 crore to Rs five crore against Anil Ambani-headed RCom for violations in the UASL agreement.
The NGO alleged that a penalty of Rs 50 crore per circle should have been imposed for “violation of the terms and conditions of Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) agreement and UASL agreement by voluntary, unilateral and unauthorized switching-off/closure of services to subscribers from USOF sites without any notice.”
“The Rs 5 crore penalty on the ADAG firm was as per the agreement between the USOF and Reliance Telecom. The DoT was nothing to do with the penalty as the company had not violated the rules of license conditions,” Sibal said.
He said when the file reached him on February 18, this year, RCom had already restored the services two days prior to that. He said he gave instructions to impose penalty as per the provisions of the agreement and did not himself decide the amount of Rs 5 crore as penalty.
He, however, was evasive when asked on what basis Rs 50 crore was decided as penalty.
An NGO on Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking CBI probe against Kapil Sibal and Attorney General G E Vahanvati for allegedly favouring Reliance Infocom on the penalty over 2G licences and bypassing of rules to give opinion to former minister A Raja respectively.
The application filed by Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) alleged that Sibal reduced the penalty to Rs five crore from Rs 650 crore against Anil Ambani-headed RCOM for violations in the UASL agreement.
Regarding Vahanvati, it alleged that he disregarded the Law Ministry in giving opinion to Raja on 2G spectrum when he was Solicitor General in UPA-I government.
“Sibal abused his position as minister to over-rule the unanimous view taken by senior DoT officials including the Telecom Secretary, to benefit a private operator by closing the issue with only a penalty of Rs 5 crore. “This abuse of authority by him to benefit Anil Ambani controlled Reliance Infocomm needs a thorough investigation by the CBI,” the application said.
The NGO annexed the documents to buttress the allegation that DoT officials were unanimous that Reliance group should be imposed penalty of Rs 50 crore per circle for “violation of the terms and conditions of Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) agreement and UASL agreement by voluntary, unilateral and unauthorized switching-off/closure of services to subscribers from USOF sites without any notice.”
The matter is likely to come up for hearing on July 11.
The NGO claimed that instead of imposing Rs 650 crore for violation of agreement conditions in 13 circles, Sibal reduced the amount to Rs five crore.
“DoT had issued notice for a penalty of Rs. 50 crore. If the same was imposed for all 13 circles in which Reliance had USOF agreements, the fine would rise to Rs. 650 crores. A detailed explanation was later also prepared by Director USOF Branch explaining why the penalty needs to be imposed,” the application said.
Raising questions on the role of Vahanvati, the NGO said that he had rendered advice to Raja disregarding the basic rule that senior law officers has to give any opinion through the proper channel of Law Ministry.
“Under the terms of service of a law officer (AG/SG), no ministry can directly seek the advice/opinion of a law officer without routing it through the law ministry, and no law officer can give any opinion/advice to any department without it being routed through the law ministry.
“But Vahanvati, disregarded these basic rules, and continued to give opinions to the DoT under Raja which were then used by him to justify his decisions and actions,” it said.
The NGO further said that the AG has wrongly given green signal for grant of license to Swan Telecom, allegedly a front company of RCOM.
“When questions were repeatedly being raised about Swan Telecom, including by the DoT itself, Vahanvati again went out of his way to give a clean chit to Swan,” the application said adding that the involvement of Vahanvati in the 2G spectrum scam also needs thorough investigation”. PTI