Come Clean on Telephone Exchange Row, Mr Maran

Published: 26th January 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th January 2015 08:57 AM   |  A+A-


Responding to the challenge for public debate on the 323-line telephone exchange he stole from BSNL to his home for use by Sun TV, Dayanidhi Maran said he was ready for it but subject to two preconditions. One, he wants see the meter reading of the telephone lines for the bill of Rs 400 cr mentioned in the article in the New Indian Express on June 2, 2011 exposing the scam. Two, he wants the technical operation of the 300 telephone lines through single “ISDN PRI” connection demonstrated before the debate. He concluded: “Let Gurumurthy do these two things and fix a date and time. I am ready for a debate with him”. Simply stated, he will come for debate only if the two preconditions are met. Now see how fake is his offer to face the debate.

First, he wants to see the meter-reading for Rs 400 cr when he knows that the fraudulently installed lines were kept outside the billing system. The core of the CBI case against Maran is this: Maran smuggled out a 323 line ISDN telephone exchange capacity from BSNL’s cable assets off the record. He surreptitiously installed it in his Chennai home fraudulently the name of Chief General Manager Chennai Telephones.

And secret cables were laid from his home to Sun TV network to enable the rich TV outfit belonging to his brother Kalanidhi Maran and his wife to use the 323 lines for commerce, free of cost. The CBI says 323 high-speed telephone lines which bore the first numbers as ‘2437’ constituted Maran’s exclusive home telephone exchange. These lines can carry voice, data and video. Now some technical discourse is inevitable. There are two types of ISDN connections - Basic Rate Access [BRA] and Prime Rate Access [PRA]. The BRA lines are of lower capacity. They can carry voice/data/video on two channels [measured technically as 64kbps each]. The PRA lines are of higher capacity and can carry telephone/data/video [64kbps each] in 30 channels simultaneously.

The first batch of 23 of these lines were separately numbered BRA lines. The 23 BRA lines have 46 Channel telephone/internet/video programming capacity each. Two of these lines [24372222 and 24372233] were also ISD lines capable of international transmission. The second batch are 300 PRA lines bearing consecutive numbers 24371500 to 24371799, with ISD facility, which can simultaneously carry telephone/internet/video transmission in 30 channels. Thus, in all there are 32 ISD lines for international internet/video transmission and 21 STD lines for inland telephone/internet/video transmission - constituting 76 BRA/PRA channels for telephone/internet/video transmission. Did Sushma Swaraj and Pramod Mahajan install such huge fraudulent private telephone exchanges in their homes, Mr Maran? Even Maran would have had no use for this huge tele capacity.

With underground cable linking the 323 lines to Sun TV, it was clearly intended for the giant TV’s national and international cable video and data transmission.

The CBI says that the installation of the 323 lines were “programmed in such way that no one other than the authorised BSNL staff was aware of” the existence of this private telephone exchange. The BSNL file note corroborates this. It says that the lines starting with ‘2437’ were not traceable in its records. Only the conspirators within BSNL who secretly installed the 323 ISDN lines knew of their existence. After Maran ceased to be the telecom minister in May 2007, other BSNL officials began searching for where these secret numbers were installed. Why did they begin searching for these numbers? Here is that interesting story.

Maran resigned as Telecom Minister on 13.5.2007. Two weeks later, on 28.5.2007, on his behalf, a request was made to BSNL to convert the two numbers, 24371515 and 24371616 “working for the former Minister” Maran - to MP quota. It is this request that forced the BSNL to record on its file the explosive fact of the secret 323-line home exchange. The BSNL note was published by the New Indian Express on 9th June 2011 [article titled “Will you accept it as Wrong, Mr Maran?]. This is what that article brought out.

The BSNL note says that “no information” was “available about these numbers” - 24371515, 24371616 - with “Public Grievances Cell or computer cell”. This gives clue to the fraud. It meant that the entire 323 lines, which constituted a separate exchange with the common code ‘2437’, had been kept out of the exchange system itself.

The officers had therefore, “to contact” the local Mambalam exchange “for details of these numbers”. This was how Maran hid his home tele-exchange. If local Mambalam BSNL subscribers needed attention, they would dial ‘1191’ after the exchange code ‘2431’. For the Maran home exchange, all calls for attention would have to be made to the exchange code ‘2431’, keeping the existence of the exchange and the code ‘2437’ secret. Next, Confessing to the existence of his 323-line secret home exchange, the BSNL note nails Maran. “It is learnt”, the BSNL says, that the numbers “24371515 and 24371616” [which Maran had asked to be converted to MP quota] are “auxiliary numbers” of the “main number 24371500 with 300 extensions”. The Note adds that this main line [24371500]“is working in 3/1 Boat Club the name of CGM Chennai Telephones”.

The Note confirms more crucial facts. One, the 23 BRA lines and main PRA line 24371500 conceal within the 323-line illegal exchange including nos 24371515 and 24371616; two, the fraudulent exchange was in the name of CGM Chennai Telephones, not in Maran’s name; and three, the illegal exchange was operating till 21.6.2007 - that is for six months and three weeks since January when it began; and four, the charges for this exchange were borne by the government - the words “under the DTISD [Dept] category” in the Note implicitly admits the fact that the 323 lines were provided free of cost. The Note makes two more devastating admissions. First, it says, “for effecting the conversion of the above numbers” into chargeable MP quota lines as requested by Maran, the main line “24371500 has to be suppressed” and “24371515 and 24371616 have to be created as ordinary numbers with STD facility and MP category”. Why suppress the number 24371500? Simple. The existence of the No 24371500 would expose that it was the main line with 300 auxiliary connections continuously numbered from 24371500 to 24371799. It had to be suppressed. And it was. Second, the Note confirms the existence of further 23 lines at Maran’s home. Maran first claimed on June 2, 2011 that he had only two lines 24371515 and 24371616. Now he says on after thought that he had only one line - that was 24371500 - treating the entire 300 auxiliary lines as one line!

Now come to the meter-reading for Rs 400cr bill which Maran is asking as condition precedent for debate. When the entire 323-line facility is provided free of cost in “DTISD [Dept] category” and is made un-billable, how could the calls be metered and bills generated? The CBI found, in just for the month of March 2007, 4.8 million units of calls had emanated from just one number 24371515 out of the 30 PRA channels in the 300 lines consisting of nos 2437500 to 24371799.

This alone means a loss of Rs 1.2 cr mentioned in the FIR against Maran, which he is holding on to as if it is the final figure of loss. It does not include the use for 24371515 for five more months and for other numbers for all six months. The real loss is what the BSNL would have lost by installing the facility and not billing for it, estimated in the first article in NIE on June 2, 2011, at Rs 400 crores. If the CBI asks the BSNL for evidence of the loss, they would have to assess the real figure of loss. With penalties which could be several times the actual bill amount, it could be much more.

The CBI has reportedly got evidence that BSNL which installed underground cable from Maran’s home to Sun TV office got approval from Chennai corporation by antedating its application. This proves the installation of the underground cable to connect the secret exchange to Sun TV. More. Behind a PRA line there can be any number of auxiliary lines - like 300 in this case. It can be much more.

All 323 lines can be simultaneously used to transmit voice/data/video subject to the over all 76 channel capacity at any given time - like hundreds of cycles, cars, heavy vehicles all can go on a road simultaneously subject to the capacity of the road. How much traffic the PRA lines can carry may be a point for the debate, but not a condition precedent to it. The CBI can let in expert evidence on this point in court.

No seer is needed to say that both the conditions set by Maran for debate are just alibi, calculated to avoid the debate. Come clean, Mr Maran.

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