CHENNAI: Provide “clinching evidence” that can prove allowing Sun TV network’s operation would impinge upon national security, reported the media on July 11. This is not Marans demanding from the Home Ministry. But this is the Information and Broadcasting Ministry asking the Home Ministry. The issue has ceased to be Maran versus the Home Ministry anymore. It is now I&B Ministry versus the Home Ministry. Marans no more need to argue their case. The I&B Ministry seems to have taken their Vakalat.
This interesting duel became public last month with a report in a Maran-friendly media, on June 20, 2015 that, in a shot in the arm for the Kalanithi Maran-promoted Sun TV network, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi has said the refusal by the Ministry of Home Affairs to grant security licence to the media group is “not legal”. The I&B Ministry sought and got the AG’s opinion, which it seemed to be looking for. The AG had signed the opinion on June 18. It means the media got it within 24 hours, on 19th, for it to print on 20th. Maybe the opinion had reached the media before the Home Ministry got it. A week later, on June 28, media reported that the Home Ministry, unfazed, rejected the AG’s opinion and stood its ground that Sun TV network did not deserve security clearance.
HC exposes fraud Sun TV network’s security issue came to light in August last year.
On August 20, 2014, the NDA’s I&B ministry cancelled the permit granted by the UPA government in 2012 to the Maran family-owned Kal Cables to run its cable network. Reason: it had not obtained security clearance from the Home Ministry. Kal Cables, which distributes Sun TV network channels, had been operating since April 2003. How come then it was faulted for not obtaining security clearance after nine years, in August 2014? In the answer to the question lay buried Marans’ fraud when Dayanidhi Maran was the self-proclaimed ‘Prime Minister’ of Telecom from 2004 to 2007 and textile minister from 2009 to 2011.
The wrongdoing of Marans was exposed by the judgment of Madras High Court (Sept 5, 2014) on the Kal Cables’ writ against the cancellation of its permit. The headline of the judgment “that the court had set aside cancellation on the ground that no opportunity was given to Kal Cables by the Home Ministry” was deceptively in Marans’ favour. The heart of the judgment was deadly against them.
From the text of his opinion it is clear that the AG had read, or was shown, only the headline of the judgment. That perhaps led him to believe that the High Court had gone totally against the Home Ministry. The judgment, one of the finest pieces of prose on facts and law, was delivered by Justice V Ramasubramaniam. Read on for how devastating is the indictment of Marans by the learned judge - not a word of which figures in the AG’s opinion. Actually, the court was so hard on Dayanidhi Maran that he had to join the appeal against the judgment asking that the court’s indictment of him be expunged. Are you aware of this? Mr AG. You may not be because you had said in your opinion that you were just “informed” of the appeal proceedings.
File Disappears for 7 Years
First, the Justice faulted the original permit given to Kal Cables. He had said that government could take action against Kal Cables - read Marans - about the manner in which ‘provisional’ permission for 10 years was granted to it on September 30, 2006, when its promoter Dayanidhi Maran was a Union Minister too. The court noticed two startling facts, which you failed to, Mr AG. First, the “provisional” permission given was “subject to security clearance”, which Kal Cables never got and yet it had been operating its cable network from 2006. Next, more shocking, the Kal Cables file containing the provisional permit subject to security clearance just disappeared and did not move to the Home Ministry at all. It was detained in the I&B Ministry for 7 years from 2006 till 2013! That meant that even the UPA government, in which Maran was minister for 5 out of 10 years and his party the DMK was alliance partner for 10 years, could not give security clearance to Marans. Why? Why was the file kept back from the Home Ministry? These questions need answers first. The AG, who obviously believed that the court had decided in Marans’ favour, seems to be unaware that it had almost suggested that the government could act against Marans on how permission was given in 2006 and how the file was kept away from the Home Ministry for 7 years. Mr AG, had you been aware of this, would you not support the court order for action against the Marans?
Marans Ducked Security Clearance
Next, the law relating to TV network and cables was amended in the year 2011 making ‘security clearance’ condition precedent for registering operators of both businesses. But existing operators were allowed the facility of deemed registration for the remaining period of their permission. Kal Cables, which had got provisional permission till Sept 29, 2016, requested for deemed registration under the new law, on December 18, 2012, representing “we have obtained due permission from the Ministry.” Simultaneously it also gave undertaking to comply with the Act, rules, regulations, order, directions or guidelines. This representation of Kal Cables that it had “due” permission was fraudulent as the stipulation of “security” clearance was not complied with.
Consequently, the undertaking that it had complied with the law, rules and directions was equally fraudulent. And yet, on June 19, 2012, Kal Cables got deemed registration for 10 years from Sept 30, 2006 - without complying with the stipulation of security clearance.
The High Court has ruled that the requirement of security clearance was always part of the rules. Kal Cables had ducked this vital requirement as the file that disappeared did not go to the Home Ministry. Intriguing, isn’t it? Mr AG, will you say that the government need not act against Marans despite the court saying it can?
Threat, Said Maran’s Ministry
The AG has noted in his opinion that, “the CBI is investigating Dayanidhi Maran for setting up 300 illegal telephone lines at Kalanidhi Maran’s home to facilitate SUN TV Service thereby gaining pecuniary advantage of Rs 443 cr.”
But the AG dismisses it as just an economic offence. Is it just that, Mr AG? Or, is it just the Home Ministry’s view that illegal telephone lines are security threat? No.
Are you aware, Mr AG, that it has been the long-held view of the Telecom Ministry itself that illegal telephone exchanges are a grave threat to national security? A full year before Dayanidhi Maran became Telecom Minister, how illegal telephones were security threat was discussed at the meeting on April 26, 2003, chaired by the Telecom Secretary himself and attended by intelligence agencies and cellular operators. Taking note of this meeting, in its order of May 24, 2010, the Telecom Appellate Tribunal [TDSAT] ruled: “Operation of clandestine/illegal telecommunications facilities has serious implications from national security point of view.” This is a matter of serious concern and all possible steps need to be taken by all concerned to curb such activities. Mr AG, was this brought to your notice?
Mr AG, is not the illegal and secret telephone exchange operated by the Telecom Minister himself even more serious - an undetectable subversion? Even more grave because, being the minister’s secret lines, the exchange was kept out of the eye of the system deliberately. Mr AG, does not the operation of 764 illegal high speed lines, which could carry unmonitored and undetected millions of pages of documents and voice and video, by the very man entrusted to protect national security as per the decision of his own ministry in 2003, make the offence graver? Mr AG, are you not aware that the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951 prohibit interconnection of ISDN lines to the public telecommunications network?
Why, do you know? Because carrying traffic from Private Network to Public Network and vice versa will result in flow of unmonitored traffic from a private network to the public network bypassing the authorised “monitor-able” gateways and result in security threat to the nation. This is precisely what Marans’ illegal exchange of 764 ISDN lines did.
Kept connected the 764 fraudulent lines to public network for three years. Can you deny Mr AG, that it was potential danger to national security? On top of all this, Maran, superseding a senior official of BSNL chose a person close to a TADA detainee to use the 764 smuggled high speed telephone lines? [NIE dated July 3, 2015] Mr AG, would you not advise a probe into whether there could be actual national security breach?
Post Script: Mr AG, do you remember the Blackberry Case? The order of the government to ban Blackberry unless it stopped providing encrypted content was based on the perception of potential threat to national security. If encrypted communication of just a couple of sentences is potential threat to national security, is not secret and unlicensed telephone exchange of 764 high speed lines, which could carry a reservoir of data - video and voice - without being detected, not potential threat to national security? Think about it Mr AG.