Media reports say that the CBI is vigorously interrogating Dayanidhi Maran on his fraudulent telephone exchange. The Supreme Court has, for its own reasons, denied custodial interrogation of Maran. Maran’s defences against custodial interrogation are: one, he had used only one line and not 323 or 764; two, the same facility was allowed for all his predecessors in office and the claim of 300 lines was false; three, the CBI has woken up after several years and delayed plea for custodial interrogation is malafide; and four, the loss to the exchequer as claimed by the CBI is just Rs1.78 cr, which he was willing to pay and settle. All four defences are blatant lies.
BSNL file nails Maran lies
If only the CBI had shown one document to the court — just one, the file notes of the BSNL dated June 2007 — Maran would have been in CBI custody by now. The background to the file noting was the love of Maran for two lucky numbers of his — 24371515 and 24371616 — out of the fraudulent 323 lines for his use after he ceased to be minister. After resigning as telecom minister in May 2007, he asked for continued use of the two numbers. Look at how the BSNL file unfolds and admits the 300 fraudulent lines and how they were suppressed.
The BSNL note says that on May 28, 2007, a fax was received from the additional private secretary of the then minister of communications and information technology (A Raja) for converting the two numbers working for former minister Maran to MPs quota. The letter is on the file.
The file says that General Manager (Operations) instructed the Public Grievances Cell (PG Cell) to take action to convert the two numbers. But the PG Cell found there were no such numbers on record! The BSNL file noted: “No information is available about the numbers in the PG Cell” and even “with the Computer cell”.
Search for secret 300
In the search for the special Maran numbers someone feverishly contacted ‘Mambalam EWSD Cell’. What is EWSD cell? It is Electronic World Switch Digital — which will give details of all telephone numbers functioning under Integrated Services Digital Network Primary Rate Access (ISDN PRA). In layman’s language, it is a versatile telephone system, which has no place for ordinary telephone numbers. It is a special telephony, which can simultaneously carry voice calls, Internet data and TV programmes. According to the CBI’s first letter to the Ministry of Telecom (Sept 10, 2007), which exposed the fraud, there were 300 ISDN PRA lines with numbers 24371500 to 24371799. This kind of system is not for homes or individuals. It is intended for large corporates who have huge communication needs. It is operated through in-house PBX (Private Branch Exchange) to the external telephone lines — known in technical terms as Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The PRA user is hooked to the EWSD cell of BSNL ducking the normal telephone route. That was how the Maran lines were found in the EWSD cell. The CBI letter further says that there were 23 other such lines — making it a total of 323 lines. The contents of the CBI letter were confirmed by the BSNL file note.
Secret exchange found
See what the search found. The note says the two favourite numbers Maran had asked for formed “the auxiliary numbers of the main number 24371500 with 300 extensions”. This is exactly what the CBI had said three months later. The note adds that the lines were found installed against the official designation of the Chief General Manager Chennai Telephones but in Maran’s home. The very fact that the lines were installed in CGM’s name in Maran’s home shows the secret nature of the exchange. The CBI had also told the ministry that the 300 lines were continuously numbered, which amounted to creating a private telephone exchange known only to “the authorised” staff of BSNL. That was why the PG Cell had to mount a search in June 2007 to find out their existence. The BSNL note brings out one more fact, which the CBI letter did not say about the 300 lines. The lines were also provided with a Caller Line Identification Restriction (CLIR) facility, which entitles the caller’s identity to be concealed. It means that no one who called from those numbers could find out from which number the call had come.
Who is entitled to the CLIR facility? It is as a rule available to the President of India, the Prime Minister and ministers of Central and State governments. Central intelligence agency officials and top-level government officials can also avail of the CLIR facility. But the CGM Chennai telephones is not in that category. He would have had to follow the rigorous procedure of applying for it with address and identity backed by the recommendation of the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu or Inspector General of Police, Intelligence to get approval from the Telecom Enforcement Resources Monitoring (TERM) Cell of the Department of Telecommunications - formerly known as Vigilance Telecom Monitoring (VTM) Cells. This is to avoid unmonitored telephone lines in the interest of national security. The CGM Chennai telephones could apply and get the CLIR facility in his name at his home and not in his name at Maran’s home as the address and identity were to be certified by the highest police officials. This is also a national security issue. This will be relevant for the national security issue in Sun TV’s case.
‘Suppress’ the 300 lines, says AGM BSNL
Here comes the most explosive part of the BSNL note, which could see Maran and his co-conspirators in BSNL in jail. The AGM (Public Grievances) BSNL writes in the file that obliging Maran’s request for the favourite numbers (24371515/1616), “the ISDN PRA 24371500” (with 300 extensions) “has to be suppressed” and “24371515 and 24371616 has to be created as ordinary numbers with STD facility and in MP category”. And this is what was exactly done. The BSNL officials “suppressed” — which means destroyed the documents relating to the 300 lines — and allotted one number (24371515) of the two that Maran wanted. The BSNL note also confesses to more lines installed at Maran’s home. The note says that seven “ISDN BRA (Basic Rate Access) numbers all with ISD and CLIR facility and two ordinary numbers”, all again in the name of the CGM, “are working” at Maran’s home. The note says that Annexure B and C contained the details of the 323 numbers. BRA numbers are inferior in capacity to PRA numbers — but do the same function as PRA otherwise. For these numbers also BSNL note asks for “the action to be taken by the section is requested by the DGM (PG)”.
More fraudulent lines tumble out in BSNL note. It lists 10 more lines — all fancy lines (28119696; 28119797; 28122222; 28122400; 21822424; 28122444; 28122525; 28122555; 281222727; and 28122828) — as installed “in the Gopalapuram office”. But that was no office. It was the residence of Marans from where they shifted to the posh Boat Club property. But the lines were found to be closed by May 2007. Stating the explosive facts, the AGM
(PG) asked for approval from DGM (OP) to allot the two lines Maran had asked for, which needed the suppression of the 300 lines installed at Maran’s Boat Club home and for orders on how to deal with the seven other BRA lines and two ordinary lines installed at Boat Club.
DGM (operations) okays suppression
See what the DGM (OP) notes on the file on 23.6.2007. He notes that the mentioned numbers (in Maran’s home) are not DELs (Direct Exchange Lines) — that is they were not on the open telephone records. He agrees that, “unless the ISDN PRA is closed this cannot be connected as direct line.” That is, the 300-line PRA has to be suppressed. He also directs that the list of numbers (BRA numbers and normal numbers) working in Boat Club address mentioned in Annex “C’ to the file be “regularised”. Means what? He alone can explain. He also says that sanction from LOP (Liaison Officer Phones) BSNL has been received for conversion of only one line 24371515 (and not two lines as Maran had asked) from private category to service category in MP capacity (flag D). This note nails another of Maran’s lie that the original number was a service number.
The file says they were private numbers and were being converted actually to service numbers. What was finally sanctioned was only one line 24371515 with ISDN PRA facility in Member of Parliament category as per the final decision of DGM (Operations) BSNL Chennai on June 29, 2007. Maran had 299 more lines with ISDN PRA facility and all that was suppressed. All that the CBI has to do is to show the BSNL file and ask him to read it and explain it. He will go to Tihar. To help the CBI the BSNL file note is carried in the box.
Post script: Now look at how Dayanidhi Maran yelled on June 2, 2011 when this newspaper exposed the fraud a couple of days earlier. “I had only one BSNL line – 24371500 – and no other in my name or home at 3/1 Boat Club Avenue. The New Indian Express story of 323 lines is false. Why didn’t they get the facts from BSNL?” The NIE has got the BSNL file, which says that the 300-line exchange had to be suppressed to give him one of the 300 lines. And that was not the number (24371500), which Maran mentioned but one (24371515) out of the 300 numbers, which that one fraudulent number had concealed. Will Maran yell now?
ISDN Line has to BE suppressed
A page of the BSNL file note dated June 29, 2007, dealing with Maran’s request for his favourite numbers and how it led to the discovery and the suppression of the 300 lines.
(S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic affairs)