Radiagate: What is it?

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(Article by Rohan Muralidharan Iyer, doesn’t need an introduction anymore)

The name which is doing the rounds the past few months in the political and journalistic circles is NIRA RADIA and her taped telephone conversations. This formed the focal point and led to the uncovering of the Pandora’s Box i.e. 2G SPECTRUM SCAM.

Let me start by telling you who exactly is NIRA RADIA?

Nira Radia is an Indian PR consultant and lobbyist; she has been an entrepreneur for the past 25 years of her life with extensive consultancy experience in aviation, travel, tourism and communication. She has conducted business with Who’s who of aviation and travel industry besides a host of corporate companies. Her client list spans some of the world’s largest aircraft leasing companies such as ILFC, Singapore airlines and AAR. In India her list of clients include the TATA’s and the AMBANI’S besides VSNL, Raymond’s, Kotak Mahindra , Channel V , Ebay and Star group . Radia who was a british citizen moved to surajkund from England from England in 1990 with her three sons after a divorce from her husband Janak Radia. She started Vaishnavi Communications a corporate communication enterprise which was also operating through its subsidiaries NEUCOM, NOESIS consulting services and VITCOM consulting. Meanwhile she also tried to start her own airlines MAGIC AIR but the project failed to get the necessary clearances. Over the years she had earned the reputation of being the trouble shooter and peace maker for various corporate firms. She was known was her proximity to rattan tata, who completely relied on her judgement and precision.

Now let me talk about the issue at hand, the RADIA TAPES controversy. It relates to the taped and released telephonic conversations between Nira Radia and politicians, corporates and industrialists, officials, bureaucrats, aides and journalists that were taped by the Indian Income Tax Department in 2008-09. The tapes led to government and public accusation that these calls documented planning of the 2G spectrum scam, along with other criminal and unconstitutional malpractices.

After getting authorization from the Home Ministry, the Indian Income Tax department tapped Radia’s phone lines for 300 days in 2008-2009, as part of its investigations into alleged large scale money laundering, tax evasion and financial malpractices by Niira Radia. These phone recordings led to unveiling of the 2G spectrum controversy of a record $40 billion involving former telecommunication and IT minister A. Raja and other politicians, corporates and industrialists, middlemen and media persons which subsequently led to his resignation from the post.

The prominent names that feature in tapes are:

*A. Raja, former telecom minster

*Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha MP and daughter of Karunanidhi

*N.K. Singh, Rajya Sabha MP

*Ratan Tata,Tata sons

*(mention of) Ambani Brothers and Manoj Modi

*Barkha Dutt , group editor , English , NDTV

*Vir Sanghvi, HT advisory editorial director

*M.K. Venu , senior business jouranalist

*Tarun Das, former CII honcho

*Prabhu Chawala, editor India Today

* Suhel Seth, management guru and columnist

*Rajdeep Sardesai, CNN-IBN

And the list goes on and on endlessly.

The matter allegedly 1st appeared on a Hindi web portal Bhadas4media that took up this story in May 2010 when on 7 May 2010 an article was published and requests for information under the Right to Information Act were also made. In November 2010, OPEN magzine carried a story which reported transcripts of some of the telephone conversations of Niira Radia with senior journalists, politicians, and corporate houses, many of whom have denied the allegations. The Central Bureau of Investigation had announced that they have 5,851 recordings of phone conversations by Radia in relation to the 2G spectrum sale.

According to the transcripts of the tapes, Radia lobbied against the reappointment of Dayanidhi Maran to the post of Union IT and Communications minister.

  • Radia spoke with Ms. Barkha Dutt at 0948 IST.

Dutt: ‘The stalemate (between Congress and DMK) continues, ya
Radia: ‘my honest advice is that you tell them (Congress) that they need to tell him (Karunanidhi) directly.
Dutt: ‘OK, let me talk to them’]

In a later conversation at 1047 IST, Barkha says that it (conveying the message to Congress) was ‘not a problem’ and that she would talk to Ghulam (Nabi Azad).

  • Radia, in a later conversation with Ranjan Bhattacharya, who also appears to be acting as a conduit to the Congress, mentions the above conversation, where she says, ‘I made Barkha call up Congress, and get a statement from Congress whether the Prime Minister has actually said that he doesn’t want Baalu, which she carried that he had never said it’. She also mentions to Bhattacharya, that ‘your friend Sunil Mittal, has been lobbying against Raja (for Maran).

OTHER TRANSCRIPTS:

Tarun Das, former head of CII, tells Radia he had put in a word to ensure that Kamal Nath got a berth in UPA-2 as surface transport minister. Das says Nath can still make his “15 per cent” while doing “national service” building highways.

 JD(U) Rajya Sabha member N.K. Singh a former bureaucrat, describes the UPA-2 cabinet as “Shivji ki baraat”, a reference to the creatures that danced attendance at Lord Shiva’s wedding.

 Referring to Murli Deora’s second innings, N.K. Singh says, “…perhaps Mukesh (Ambani) has swung it for him”.

 Radia also reveals in conversation that Unitech, one key beneficiary of the spectrum allocation, had been defaulting on payments to the Tatas. A Rs 60-crore cheque had bounced, she tells Ranjan Bhattacharya, foster son-in-law of former PM Atal Behari Vaypayee. Bhattacharya says Unitech thought Union commerce minister Anand Sharma was “proprietary”. Sources told Outlook the Tatas are yet to be repaid Rs 400 crore out of the Rs 1,600 crore given to Unitech.

Some more Excerpts:

“When it came to spectrum, they went to Raja and paid him a bribe and got spectrum allocated.”

“Uddhav has already taken funding from both groups. I’d suggest, tell Krishna Kumar to talk to Uddhav.”

“Otherwise I will tell them to tell Uddhav to go after them. I don’t think Congress will do much.”

“I believe Maran has given about 600 crores to Dayalu, Stalin’s mother.”

Mere client Tatas bhi bahut beneficiary thhe (in the 2G spectrum allocation).”

“Senthil, Rahul Joshi, maine donon ki le li. You can’t run stories against my clients and get away with it.”

“I have a note, no, a whole dossier, on Praful Patel on the last five years jisme ye poora aspect hai.”

Inka pichhle paanch saal mein yahi attempt to tha, inko destroy karo, donon careers ko.”

“Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar, Venkaiah Naidu, ye sab coterie hain na of Advani.”

“Naresh wants to kill it (Air India), Vijay wants to kill it and Praful is not really interested.”

“Raja has promised me that he will not do anything in a hurry. I made Kani speak to him as well. ”

“The solicitor general, Gopal Subramaniam, I am gonna go and brief him. He hates them.”

REACTIONS and subsequent Events:

The news gained prominence following sustained pressure on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook against an attempted blackout orchestrated by many prominent Indian TV channels and newspapers. Initially, only a handful of the mainstream newspapers in India, like The Hindu, The Deccan Herald and Indian Express had written openly about the tapes, some newspapers like HT and MINT (the business newspaper also owned by HT media) and NDTV said “the authenticity of these transcripts cannot be ascertained”. CNN –IBN to played it safe by having a debate on the topic on FACE THE NATION without taking any names. But slowly as activism on the internet spread, more and more newspapers started coming up with the story, such as DNA, Times of India and Deccan Chronicle.

On 26 November 2010, Barkha Dutt and Vir Sangavi released statement, addressing questions raised by the tapes, which she claims were edited, meanwhile Niira Radia also served a legal notice on The Pioneer, on the report titled “Tapped and Trapped” published by the newspaper. The notice asserted that The Pioneer‘s report regarding corruption and manipulation in the allotment of 2G spectrum to telecom operators, in so far as it referred to Radia’s connections with Telecom Minister A Raja, are “absolutely false, baseless and malicious and constitute gross defamation”

The original tapes are now annexures in a Supreme Court petition seeking Raja’s prosecution. The opposition parties in India have demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam, which could also to be extended to include a probe into the Radia tapes to ascertain the media’s role in the controversy. The demand for JPC has led to the complete stalling of the winter session of the parliament. The Government has also been accused of selectively releasing merely 10 hours of the 2000 hours recorded of the Radia tapes.

The CBI in its affidavit in the Supreme Court in the 2G spectrum allocation case, on Nov 22 2010, had stated that Radia will be approached for investigation at an appropriate time and that the probe would be completed latest by March 2011, it is also examining transcripts relating to Niira Radia’s 5,851 phone calls and 82,665 pages of documents. On 24 November 2010, Niira Radia was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials and recorded her statements in relation to the 2G scam probe.

In November 2010, Ratan Tata moved the Supreme Court of India seeking a direction to the government to probe the leakage of tapes containing his private conversations with corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, and stop further publication of the same.The two magazines, Outlook and Open, which published the Radia tapes challenged the maintainability of the petition moved by Ratan Tata in the Supreme Court, arguing it was private interest litigation cloaked in the form of public interest litigation On December 8, 2010, the CBI conducted raids in Delhi and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, 14 residences connected to A.Raja, his relatives and aides, as part of the investigation into the 2G spectrum allocations and on 14 December, seeking to counter Tata, the NGO – Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) filed a petition in the Supreme Court “to seek the active intervention of SC to lift forever the officially protected cloak of secrecy that conceals from public gaze, any revelation of the backdoor manipulation of government and active subversion of government decisions and policy for private commercial interest”. It is a plea to the court, to make public the entire collection of Radia tapes that is in its possession.

On December 15, 2010, the CBI again conducted raids in various premises in Delhi and Chennai, Tamil Nadu in furthering the investigation. This time, the CBI raided the homes and offices of lobbyist Niira Radia, former telecom regulatory (TRAI) chief Pradeep Baijal and relatives of former telecom minister A Raja over the 2G spectrum scam. The CBI also interrogated Niira Radia. The raids in Tamil Nadu include A Raja’s auditors and Kamaraj, a journalist known to be close to A. Raja’s party, the DMK. Kamaraj’s wife, Jeyasudha, is a senior executive at the Chennai office of Vaishnavi Communications, owned by Niira Radia. The raids also include the residence of A. Raja’s brother, Ramachandran, in Periyar Nagar, Trichy and the offices of an NGO in Chennai which enjoys the patronage of Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi who is Karunanidhi’s daughter and is known to be a staunch supporter of A. Raja. After the raids, the CBI is scrutinising documents and deciphering information stored in over a dozen computers seized from the premises of Niira Radia. The CBI is taking help from the Forensic Services Lab to retrieve the information stored in hard disc drives of seized computers and laptops.

On December 16, 2010, the Supreme Court of India announced that it will monitor the investigations and have asked the CBI, the ED and the Income Tax Department to file their investigation status before February 10, 2011.

In the end I would like to say that, this might be just the tip of the ice berg, there might be a lot which is still left to be uncovered. The 2G scam is only a fragment to the whole sham; this controversy has blown the lid and revealed the role of power brokers such as journalist, industrialists and lobbyist in Indian Political fraternity. It has dented the Image of the Indain media and its claim of complete integrity forever. This year has been an year of Scams right from CWG to adarsh society, never before in our history we have seen a scam of such enormity, I just hope being an active citizen of our “great” nation that perpetrators should be brought to justice and it does not become yet another controversy where the accused because of their stature were left Scott free. The faith and confidence of our people towards the government machinery ought to be restored.

(Editor’s Note: The Radia controversy is not the same as the 2G spectrum scandal. Might be connected, but not the same.)

23 COMMENTS

  1. Clarification : YES Zacarias,
    Radia tried to launch crown air in 2000 , which failed !
    and there was MAGIC AIR in 2005 , which was also set to launch by radia …but FAILED !

    • It is. And it doesn’t tap phones at will, you’ve to ask the Home Ministry for permission to tap phones and it is limited to certain situations only (terror, security, tax evasion, etc).

      Ethically wrong. Not legally. And tapping phones is explicitly for the purpose of the government, they were never intended for publication.

  2. read the article carefully !
    i’ve already said : the Indian Income Tax department tapped Radia’s phone lines for 300 days in 2008-2009, as part of its investigations into alleged large scale money laundering, tax evasion and financial malpractices by Nira Radia.
    So she was already under the radar !

  3. @ Aymen. Does law school have a course on WIT? You seem to be topping it! On a serious note, shouldn’t we be considering this as a violation of democratic rights to some extent?

  4. By any standards, it IS a violation of our democratic rights. But look at it this way – the suspicion was this: that she was evading taxes worth millions, had the government not done anything about it, because it’d be a violation of her right to privacy – it’d be discriminatory. The elite are let off the hook for not paying taxes; but the middle classes aren’t? That is a violation of OUR fundamental right. It is, of course a little more complicated than this – but that’d be the argument that the government could put forth.

    Besides, all fundamental rights, are still somewhere, subject to “reasonable restrictions”

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