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Posted on 31 May 2011

Response to Dayanidhi Maran’s press statement and legal notice to Tehelka

Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 22, Dated 04 June 2011
Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 22, Dated 04 June 2011

UPDATE: Former telecom minister and current union textiles minister, Mr Dayanidhi Maran has just issued a press statement rebutting Tehelka Editor, Investigations Ashish Khetan’s story Hello? Who Will Bell This Cat?” He asserts it is “totally untrue and malicious” to say he was partial to a particular company and has therefore sent defamation notices to the newspapers and TV channels that have been reporting this story. Tehelka has also finally received his legal notice.

The substance of Mr Maran’s press statement is that he was “not even” a Minister when M/S Astro invested in Sun Direct in December 2007, as he had resigned as a minister on 13 May 2007. He also asserts that he owns no shares or fiduciary interest in any of these companies.

Unfortunately, Mr Maran’s arguments are not only weak but factually insupportable and a mere sleight of hand. Contrary to his assertions, M/S Astro, a Maxis Group company, announced a joint venture with Sun Direct TV in February 2007, barely three months after Aircel, owned by Maxis, had been awarded 14 lucrative licences. In fact, the Foreign Investment and Promotion Board and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting gave Astro the required approval to acquire 20 percent in Sun Direct (owned by Dayanidhi’s brother Kalanidhi and his wife) on 2 March and 19 March 2007 – while Mr Maran was very much the telecom minister.

While it is true that Mr Maran then resigned on 13 May 2007, it is clear the apparent quid pro quo had already been set in motion while he was in office. What’s more, Mr Maran could not have forseen that he was going to have to resign as telecom minister in May because his resignation was triggered by a sudden family feud and his loss of favour with DMK supremo Karunaidhi, when the latter suspected the Maran brothers of creating a rift between his sons Azhagiri and Stalin.

Astro’s 20 percent investment in Sun TV at a cost of Rs 315.71 crore – a process begun in February/March 2007 -- was completed in December 2007. It then continued to invest further in Sun TV over January 2008 – December 2009. For Mr Maran to argue that he was no longer telecom minister is just sophistry.

His assertion that he does not possess any shares in Sun TV is also sophistry as there is a clear conflict of interest when a businessman who had benefitted from him invests close to 700 crore in his brother’s company. (Former telecom minister A Raja was sent to jail for much less as Kaliagnar TV belonged to the DMK supremo’s family and Raja was not even directly related to any of its owners.)

As for Maran’s argument that he was not partial to a particular company, Tehelka’s story has established in great factual detail how Aircel’s value rose exponentially after Ananda Krishnan bought it from its previous owner Sivasankaran, and was awarded 14 licences in cash-rich circles by Maran. Sivasankaran had sold Aircel at $800 million. Within two years, it was worth $7.5--8 billion. The licences awarded by Maran played a huge role in this meteoric rise.

In his legal notice to Tehelka, Mr Maran makes a different argument altogether. He has sued Tehelka for alleging that he withheld or deliberately delayed granting the licences to Aircel while it was owned by Sivasankaran and that this may have been a pressure tactic to make Sivasankaran sell Aircel to Ananda Krishnan, whom he favoured.

Unfortunately, Mr Maran’s arguments here too are dismally weak. Tehelka has at no point made a conclusive statement that he forced Sivasankaran to sell Aircel to Ananda Krishnan. The story merely posed this as a question arising out of circumstantial evidence.

The story documents in great detail – with letters and official communiqués -- how repeated requests for licences during Sivasankaran’s tenure as owner of Aircel was stonewalled or fell on deaf-years for two years. In fact, retired Justice Shivraj Patil – tasked to go examine the appropriateness of procedures followed in granting telecom licences – has used very strong words in his report regarding this. He called the causes of delay “irrelevant”, “vague” and “unwarranted”. Tehelka has merely detailed this out. Would Mr Maran like to sue Justice Patil as well?

On almost every term of reference of his enquiry, Justice Patil has found Maran's actions and policies as telecom minister in gross violation of established ministry procedures and Government of India rules. Why has Maran till date not come clean on these serious issues raised by Justice Patil?

The fact that Aircel was granted 14 licences within six months of Ananda Krishnan’s Maxis buying Aircel makes all this doubly suspicious. Aircel paid Rs 1,399.47 crore for these licences. Going by the benchmark in the CAG report used in the A Raja case, these licences would have been worth Rs 22,000 crore.

Mr Maran’s legal notice is an unfortunate intimidatory tactic. Both the notice and press statement have addressed none of the core issues arising out of the Tehelka story -- Maran's arbitrary and ad-hoc policies as telecom minister, his dubious ways of handling Aircel applications, his insistence on keeping spectrum pricing out of GoM and FM's purview and the massive and seemingly over-valued investments by Maxis in Sun Group.

Shoma Chaudhury
Managing Editor

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Posted on 31 May 2011



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