In the technical jargon that passes for the 2G scam and amidst figures of gigantic corruption, what is often overlooked is what really started the fire. Because, the scam in a nutshell was spectrum, a scarce natural resource, sold for a song in 2008 at prices prevailing in 2001. How and why did this happen and who were the major players because at the heart of it all was the compulsions of coalition dharma.
Long before A Raja and his party DMK came into the picture, Spectrum pricing which was to be decided by a group of ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee was finally decided by then telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran and he, in consultation with his party DMK, decided to sell spectrum for a song, literally. So, how did he do that?
The foundation of the scam was laid in 2006. A group of ministers, headed by defence minister pranab mukherjee, was constituted to look at various issues of spectrum. Buried amongst the terms of reference was a term "spectrum pricing".
Then Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran saw red when the Terms of Reference were decided. He shot off a letter to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reminding him in no uncertain terms that, "You had kindly assured me that the Terms of reference of the GOM would be drawn up exactly the way we wanted...I am however surprised to note that the GoM as constituted has much wider Terms of Reference, some of which I feel impinge upon the work normally to be carried out by the ministry itself...I shall be grateful if you could kindly instruct concerned to modify the Terms of Reference as suggested by us which are enclosed."
Sure enough, by the end of December 2006 the new Terms of Reference had been drawn up. The government had signed on the dotted line as ordered by the telecom minister. That the UPA could be told to do things in a certain way, literally at gun point is not surprising. The DMK with 18 MPs was crucial in supporting the government that had been formed with a wafer thin majority in 2004. Allocation of scarce natural resources like spectrum and coal were two major decisions taken by the government in 2006-2007, both of which came to haunt it in UPA 2.
Surprisingly, it was the Finance Ministry that was pusing for spectrum pricing to be decided, not by the Telecom Ministry, but by the GoM. File notings of the Finance Ministry have then minister P Chidambaram inquiring whether the issue has been settled or not. Successive finance secretaries, urged by Chidambaram, made a case for spectrum pricing to be done at market rates.
Finance Secretary Ashok Jha even wrote to Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi asking him to intervene. "Spectrum pricing and allocation have far reaching consequences for the economy and need to be debated. The contention fo teh DOT that these issues are within its normal is not entirely correct". Similar requests were made by D Subbarao to then telecom secretary DS Mathur but to no avail.
While A Raja spent time behind bars, Dayanidhi Maran was exonerated in the Aircel Maxis case. The small matter of spectrum pricing remains a matter of policy collectively decided by the Cabinet.