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Has the Tata Group reputation of honesty been tarnished after the Telecom Scam

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The Tata Group in India is known for its high standards of corporate governance and ethics.In an environment where Big Business openly colludes with politicians/bureaucrats to blatantly loot and plunder,the Tata Group has stood out for its success and reputation of honesty.While Stock Market Scandals and other Scams happen with great regularity,Tata have generally stayed away from the mess.The Group’s Success in diverse sectors such as Metals (Tata Steel),Automobiles (Tata Motors) ,Software(TCS) have made it the most successful business conglomerate.Audacious acquisitions of overseas companies like Jaguar,Corus,Daewoo have announced the arrival of the Indian MNC.However the recent 2G telecom scam has tarnished this reputation of integrity as Nira  Radia tapes reveal the chairman of the group Ratan Tata of hobnobbing with a shady lobbyist.Ratan Tata has gone to court over breach of privacy but has not explained why his group companies has appointed  an obviously corrupt lobbyist.His Telecom Companies Tata Teleservices and Tata DocoMo were obvious beneficiaries of the adhoc regulation and policy in the last 10 years.A letter from Rajeev Chandrasekharan has in a succinct and factual manner raised questions about the silence of the Tata Group over the last 10 years as the Telecom Shenanigans were being played out.

Indian icons from the military and sports (cricket) have also found themselves falling as they become deeply involved in the myriad scams.The Tata Group is an icon in the Business world  of how to be successful in India while still maintaining high ethical standards.However the Telecom Scam has raised uncomforatable questions about the governance standards of the Tata Group.Its time for the Tatas to stand upto the legacy otherwise the royalty charged by the Tata Group from its companies for the use of the Tata Brand Name will become another instance of fleecing the minority investors.

What Rajeev Chandrashekhar told Ratan Tata

I, as countless other Indians, have held the house of Tatas in great esteem and respect – have seen them as being different from so many other Indian corporates that play by a different set of rules and values. I, along with many Indians, consider JRD Tata as one of the true builders of modern India.

So, it is with considerable sadness and dismay that I am constrained to write this open letter to you. I trust you will not consider this as personal, since my letter has to do with issues of principle and conduct that are disturbing.

In your recent press interactions, you have made the point that the 2G scam needs to be investigated and have made several sub-points, including:

1) Out-of-turn allocation of spectrum;

2) Hoarding of spectrum by incumbent operators; and

3) Flip-flop of Policy

Let me wholeheartedly agree with you. Many in media and public life including me, have been saying this for several years now, so your belated realization of these critical issues is very welcome.

I sympathize with your concern about public-policy making in our country sometimes resembling that of a Banana Republic. But the forces behind this are helped considerably by the fact that people with power and influence remain silent and passive spectators to this. So many including I would have welcomed your intervention much earlier, as in the case of the alleged bribing offer 15 years ago, of Rs 15 Crores that you referred to only recently.

You will agree that speaking out against corruption is most effective when it is happening and not decades or years later. Because then it becomes an intellectual post mortem, and not active resistance.

Since I was previously a telecom entrepreneur, there will be a temptation for those that advise you, to attribute agenda and motivations to this letter of mine. But I assure you that there is none. I write because I believe that there is a need to join you in this debate and necessarily bring to your attention the contradictions between your stand and the position of the Tata Telecom companies, that you may be unaware of, given your senior position in your organization.

1) Out-of-Turn Allocation of Spectrum

According to the CAG Report, the potential loss to the Exchequer on account of dual technology licenses at 3G rates is Rs. 37,154 crores. By virtue of dual technology – according to the CAG – your company has caused a loss to the Exchequer to the tune of approx. Rs. 19074.8 crores.

But it is not just this. It is a fact that the Tata Group is a beneficiary of out-of-turn spectrum. In fact, one of the biggest of them all.

It is a fact admitted by the Government on affidavit that 575 applications were received for 2G spectrum by 01 October, 2007. Using an illegal and arbitrary cutoff date, Mr. Raja processed only 122 applications received till 25 September, 2007. 110 were rejected and 343 applications were put in abeyance.

Given the fact that there is no 2G spectrum available, these applications received till 01 October, 2007 (within the date represented by the Government) have now been put in the dustbin. In fact, the TRAI had already recommended on 11 May 2010 that no more UASL license with bundled spectrum can be given. This means that these 343 applications will never be processed and will never see spectrum.

In the meantime, 19 days after these 575 applications were received, the dual technology policy was announced through a press release by Mr. Raja. The Tatas put in their dual technology applications around 22 October. So, in effect, their application went in three weeks after the 575 2G applications were received.

Today, Tatas already have GSM spectrum allocated and GSM service launched in most of the circles – But the 343 applications submitted three weeks before the Tata Group have neither been processed nor have any chance of ever being processed – so much for First Come, First Serve.

You will accept that this seems to be a case of arriving late, forming a new queue, jumping the priority and accusing others of getting priority on spectrum allocation and meets your point of out-of-turn allocation of spectrum. I am sure the 373 applicants who were rejected for no fault of theirs, will agree – while the Tata Group has sold its equity for billions of dollars to NTT Docomo based on its out-of-turn GSM allocation on dual technology policy.

In my humble opinion, evidence suggests that the Tatas have benefited from out-of-turn spectrum allocation. The dispute between Tatas and Reliance Comm inter se on the allocation sequence cannot dilute the primary fact of bypassing other early applicants to this spectrum.

2) Hoarding of spectrum by incumbent operators

This is an important point you have raised. I concur with you that there is a need for Telcos, old or new, to pay market rates for spectrum. I also completely agree that the subscriber linked criteria allocation of spectrum is flawed and is encouraging fudging and false subscriber numbers. But I bring to your attention, that this is existing Government policy – flawed or unfortunate as it may be, and the only solution to this is to replace this with a new policy.

If by hoarding, you mean having more spectrum than number of subscribers that can be serviced – then please note that Tata holds spectrum both for GSM and CDMA. Based on the spectrum that Tata has, its average efficiency is perhaps the lowest amongst the large operators. Equally, that the CDMA spectrum that Tata holds is 3-4 times more efficient than the GSM operators – by its own admission, which I recall during the WLL scam.

Moreover, Tata has received CDMA and GSM spectrum at 2001 rates. So even if the hoarding charge was to apply, it would also apply to the Tatas for having maximum cumulative efficiency (CDMA and GSM) to serve the least number of subscribers amongst the incumbents.

Again, I fully support the need to price spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz with incumbent operators at market rates. But the charge of hoarding that you make applies equally to Tata Tele – whether it is total spectrum held, or subscribers served based on that spectrum, or price paid to acquire such spectrum, vis-à-vis the cumulative efficiency of CDMA and GSM.

3) Flip-flop of Policy

In your interview, you have pointed out that a lot of the current dysfunctionality in Telecom has arisen from Policy changes and flip-flops. You would recall that one of the most horrific distortions of Policy was the infamous WLL scam in 2001– where Telecom companies with Fixed service licenses managed to muscle their way into cellular with active support of Policy makers of that time – and not to forget that it was all done in the name of benefit to the common man! You will further recall that in 2003, a convenient set of recommendations by the TRAI and Government allowed this illegality to be regularized through the UASL policy, opening the gates to unprecedented and unique (and unheard of) First Come, First Served form of licensing – bypassing tenders (a form of auction) that were the norm for obtaining cellular licenses till then.

Your company was the beneficiary of this ‘policy flip-flop’ and you chose to accept the benefits of this flip-flop at that time – despite this blatant violation and distortion. I am personally aware because I led the fight against it and remember being immensely disappointed at the Tata Group’s remarkably self-serving position. Further, in one of the most mysterious and indefensible acts, Tata Group took on board as a consultant, the very individual, who as the Chairman of TRAI was the architect of this UASL and other shames.

So in summary and respectfully, your positions in the recent interviews seem to be in stark contrast with the actual conduct, performance and position of Tatas’ Telecom companies in each of the three points you have raised.

There are several other questions that deserve answers, including why a group like Tata with its sterling character and reputation requires outside lobbyists to lobby on their behalf! That, in itself, is enough to shatter one’s confidence!

I reiterate that this letter is not meant to tarnish or disrespect or distract from the many achievements of the Tata Group including the acquisition of International Brands like Land Rover, Jaguar and its increasingly global footprint. But I believe, on behalf of many erstwhile supporters of the Tata group, that it is my duty to seek and spotlight the truth. The Tata Group has a responsibility, and indeed, owes it to its many admirers in India to actually live up to its image of ethical conduct, otherwise your statements and actions will seem to be hypocrisy – something that’s already available in plenty in our public and corporate life.


Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Member of Parliament

New Delhi

06 December, 2010


Abhishek Shah

One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Mitra

    Thank you Mr Rajeeev Chandrashekar
    A befitting reply from Mr. Ratan Tata to you…

    I sincerely believe that Mr. Tata’s response to our RS MP Rajeev Chandrashekar was very apt and well elaborated. I have gone through the entire letter written by Mr. Tata and I am very convinced that he answered each doubt and question raised by Rajeev Chandrashekar and the response is well substantiated. And I may say that most of my colleagues or friends and the public at large are not particularly surprised by Rajeev Chandrashekar’s counter reply. His reply is vague and his intention to reply in detail sometime next week is even more vague. If he has to think and ponder over so much I am sure he has some motivated interest due to which he needs time to gather fabricated evidence against India’s and one of world’s most respected industrialist. If he thinks that he will need to apply his mind to Mr Tata’s response then he could have easily said so and not taken Mr. Tata’s response as a personal attack on himself.

    Also the timing of Rajeev Chandrashekar’s letter in the first place is very much questionable. Through this piece I wish to highlight the power of influence which is so relevant to the current scenario. As a freelance journalist who has been more of an anti-Tata than a pro-Tata in the past must highlight

    Some facts that I know of as a journalist (more of a against Tata than a for Tata one) Tatas have been using the service of an external lobbyist / PR consultant for quite sometime now – much to the dislike of some of us journalists. It is surprising why Rajeev Chandrashekar chose to question the use of an external lobbyist at this point of time. It seems a case of riding the wave for some free self publicity – ‘behti ganga mein haath dho lo’. I have questioned why such consultants should come in our way of reaching out to the corporate but now I am better poised to understand the importance of these consultants in the lives of the corporate houses – and I may add that these professionals do not always represent a journalist bashing community. And I do understand why they do not respond to us at times – specially to a regional media freelancer like me!

    We also know that Tatas have always maintained that they have been discriminated against in several policy issues – though I had differed with their views on various counts earlier. Why is it that only a recent interview has stirred Rajeev Chandrashekar and made him write this open letter. Why did he not object to several past claims by Tata on being discriminated against? In fact the recent spate of accusations against Tata makes me believe that they have actually been isolated and discriminated against and all my counter arguments that I had to to their claims have dissipated. Now I am convinced that I may have been influenced by several vested interests in disagreeing with the Tatas. Let me also place it on record that the recent developments clearly indicate how increasing number of smaller companies / corporate houses are just happy to see a name like Tata being maligned and how they would be even happier to see the downfall of this corporate behemoth – sure it would open a sea of opportunities for these smaller corporate houses!

    While a lot of people – corporate, individuals and corporate – have gone ahead and alleged Tata of being guilty, the larger public perception seems to be shaping otherwise. In fact several who earlier doubted the self-proclaimed ethical standards of Tata have actually started believing in the group’s claims and have started doubting their own logical and rationale thinking – how they let their perception about Tatas be adversely influenced by frivolous allegations made against Tatas during the past by some vested interests. There is no doubt now that Tatas had taken on a more aggressive policy influencing stance due to the attacks on them in the past and employing a lobbyist, being desirous of a particular minister is only part of their fight against discrimination.

    Coming back to Rajeev Chandrashekar’s letter, it is important to note that his own past reputation and character is enough for a layman to understand the motive behind his open fight against Tata. It is very evident that he wants some free publicity for himself at the cost of destroying painstakingly built reputations of well known people and in the process destroying the country’s growing reputation globally. It is also palpable that his RS MP seat has the support of someone and this is in the interest of that someone, he is trying to hide the irregularities done by him in unison with several other… am sure people in the know about the developments will be able to see through his tactics and many more similar vested interests of Rajeev Chandrashekar will be analysed by them.

    But this battle is not over… RC will make all possible attempts for what I called as “behti ganga mein haath dhona”. I only wish that this corporate battle is rightly projected by media and does not lead to influencing people to sympathise with the smaller fish – yes, small by all means and definitely small in deeds!

    Thank you Mr. Rajeev Chandrashekhar for awakening me and drilling some logic in my mind… If not for you, I would have continued to differ with Tatas, without any prejudice, on several issues with my eyes closed… Maybe I still will be a blind man but this time will begin to agree with the Tatas on their claims and objections to policy matter with due diligence!!