Shame on the CBI for Marans’ discharge
In a shocking verdict, the CBI court has discharged all the accused, including former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran and Sun TV boss Kalanidhi Maran in the illegal telephone exchange case.
The facts of the case stare at the judgment. The undisputed facts, each of which indicate the fraud, are: One, 323 high speed BSNL ISDN telephone lines were found installed in the Boat Club Road residence in Chennai of the Marans from January to May 2007 when Dayanidhi Maran was the telecom minister. Another 400-plus lines were installed in their Gopalapuram residence —making it 764 lines in all. Two, the lines were in the benami name of the Chief General Manager of Chennai Telephones, but in Marans’ home.
Three, all the telephones were given separate serial numbers, which were outside the telephone system itself, so their existence was kept secret. Four, the 323 high speed lines installed in the Boat Club Road residence of the Marans were linked by underground cable with Sun TV network.
Five, since the lines were kept outside the system, they were automatically outside the billing and accounting systems as well. Six, since they were out of the accounting system, the user charges of the 323 lines and the over 400 additional lines were not known. Seven, the CBI had estimated that at 70 paise per pulse, the user charges for the 323 lines would have been over Rs 440 crore for the period of installation. Eight, the installation charges paid by the BSNL amounted to just `1.72 crore.
The facts came out because Dayanidhi Maran resigned after the Marans had a tiff with their grand uncle M Karunanidhi who was the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu. But by the time the 2009 general elections came, their relations got repaired and the CBI officer who investigated the case was transferred and hounded. The investigation that was then being done by the Chennai team was transferred to Delhi.
Even after the matter was exposed by The New Indian Express in June 2011, the probe did not pick up. I had to move the Supreme Court to get the CBI register an FIR in December 2013, which they were not willing to do earlier. But when the Marans were to be arrested in the case, they approached the judiciary and a court observed that it was just a civil case and the amount of loss was just Rs 1.7 crore. This was because the CBI never disclosed the real loss. The CBI was supposed to get the real user charges from the national gateway details in Hyderabad, which it did not. The CBI was never sincere about this prosecution from the day the honest investigating officer was transferred out.
What has happened now is a travesty of justice. The Special Court has said that there is no charge to be framed and the Marans are innocent. That a case like this has been handled so casually by the CBI is shocking and that the Special Court has not found the case fit enough even for trial is even more shocking.
The installation of hundreds of lines outside the system is a national security risk. And at that time there was a huge war in Sri Lanka with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in which India was strategically involved. There was also the shadow of arrest of a former DMK minister who was earlier booked under the National Security Act for harbouring the LTTE. None of these issues were brought to the notice of the court in the chargesheet, which does not even mention the user charges. It was a prosecution launched to lose the case.
If the CBI and the Central government are sincere about cleaning the polity of corruption and abuse of power, this case has to be taken up seriously. The CBI ought to file an appeal against the discharge and make further probe, get the details of user charges, fix the losses involved and prosecute the case in the right earnest.
The Marans who are now boasting about their victory ran away from filing a defamation suit, which they threatened The New Indian Express with in June, 2011. TNIE accepted the challenge with an article “Welcome, Mr Maran”. The CBI has now made them claim to be honest. It is a tragedy.
The author is a well-known commentator on economic and political affairs