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'Where Has the Money Gone?': Ex-Telecom Minister Raja on 5G Spectrum Sale

"The government has itself estimated that 5G would be sold up to 5 lakh crore. But now 5G has been auctioned for only 1.5 lakh crore," Raja said on the recently concluded auction.

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New Delhi: Former telecom minister A. Raja – who had alleged a “huge scam” in the recently concluded 5G spectrum auctions – asked “where has the money gone”, referring to the huge difference between the amount generated from the auction (Rs 1.5 lakh crore) and the projected revenue from the sale (Rs 5 lakh crore).

The 5G spectrum auction, which began on July 26, concluded on Monday, August 1.

According to Hindustan Times, Raja on Thursday, August 4, asked, “Where has the money gone? Where has the mistake taken place? This current government should investigate this.”

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, who was the telecom minister in the UPA government, was accused in the alleged 2G scam. Raja came under fierce criticism, particularly from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was then in the opposition. The issue had assumed political significance in the run-up to the 2014 General Elections, with the BJP successfully leveraging it politically to mobilise the public mood against the UPA.

However, Raja was acquitted along with 34 others in 2017 by a Delhi court, which said the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had “miserably failed to prove any charge against any of the accused, made in its well-choreographed charge sheet”.

Speaking to reporters in Chennai on Thursday, he said, “The government has itself estimated that 5G would be sold up to 5 lakh crore. But now 5G has been auctioned for only 1.5 lakh crore.”

He was referring to the Rs 4.3 crore reserve price set for a total of 72 gigahertz of spectrum in 22 telecom circles before the bids were opened. The government, however, realised only 35% of the reserve price, the HT report said.

“When I recommended only 30 MHz of spectrum to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the regulatory authority, the then CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General] Vinod Rai said Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss to the government. But now 51 GHz of 5G spectrum is being sold for less amount,” he had earlier said on Wednesday, August 3, according to The Hindu, seeking an investigation into the matter.

“When you search for something on the internet, you will get results in 10 seconds when you use 2G, 5 seconds when you use 4G, and in 5G, you will get the results in a second. That is how efficient 5G is. When you compare the numbers based on this efficiency, the 5G auction should have attracted bids worth at least Rs 5 or 6 lakh crore.

We don’t know if the planning or estimation was incorrect, or if they simply got these numbers from the air, or if the Union government has colluded with certain corporate companies to conduct this scam. All of this has to be investigated now,” the former telecom minister had said on Wednesday, according to The News Minute.

People stand in front of a board depicting 5G network at the India Mobile Congress 2018 in New Delhi, India, October 26, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis

In response, the incumbent telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw dismissed Raja’s reading into the matter. “I am shocked to see this coming from a former minister. Many bands were not sold, what was not sold remains with the government. How does that become a scam?” Vaishnaw had told The Hindu on Wednesday.

The minister had gone on to explain that of the total put on auction, the sold spectrum was valued at Rs 1,50,173 crore and the unsold spectrum at Rs 2,81,432 crore. He had added that spectrum bands of 600 MHz and 2300 MHz remained unsold entirely due to the weak ecosystem of mobile telephony in such segments.

Also Read: As All 2G Accused Are Acquitted, What Happened With the Scam That Wasn’t?

The 5G spectrum auction began on July 26 and continued until August 1 for seven days. The bids went upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh crore spread over 40 rounds. As per the telecom ministry, 5G will roll out in India by October.

According to Indian Express, Reliance Jio emerged as the largest bidder in the auction and obtained almost half of all the airwaves sold for more than Rs 88,000 crore, and was also the only one (among four applicants) to have acquired spectrum in the premium 700 MHz band.

The former telecom minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was considered the face of the 2G spectrum scam which came to light after then Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai had claimed that the 2G allocation process in 2007-08 caused a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer. Rai’s theory of presumptive loss was questioned and the CBI in its chargesheet put the estimated losses in the range of Rs 20,000-30,000 crore.