Finally, Economic Times gets it right as well as wrong

Finally, Economic Times (ET) gets it right as well as wrong. What did it get right?

It has an good editorial today on the telecom rip-off story that I had written a post on couple of days back. ET editorial mentions that according to the telecom minister, the reason behind not auctioning the licence was that the government expects to earn more revenue in this manner. ET rightly calls this absurd because in reality, Telenor has also won an auction from Unitech and the terms arethe same as what Unitech had. Unitech has sold it to the highest bidder. Also, one can auction the licence on certain terms and conditions which could have included a clause for how the proceeds of a sale would be handled. Even now the licence has been given on certain terms and conditions. What was the problem in adding one more condition. Also, if Unitech can auction it so can the government.

As rightly pointed out by ET in its edorial, why is the government silent on this Rs. 40,000 crore ripoff.

However, ET did not get the following right.

(a) Rs. 6,120 crores is just 60% of the value. So when you take the full valuation of the company at approx. Rs. 11,620 crores, the profit is much higher than 4 times the money invested that ET mentions.

(b) I know that Times of India group has a soft corner for the finance minister but they should have mentioned him by name in the editorial. Finance ministers comes up with tax schemes like Fringe Benefit Tax and cash withdrawal tax to harass tax payers to simply collect measily amounts of a few thousand crores but he has not raised his voice with respect to this rip off. How could finance minister give his approval for a Rs. 40,000 scam.

(c)This news is not Page 16 news as that is where the editorial appears. Even though, ET has written an editorial. this is front page news with a heading “Rs. 40,000 crore scam. Govt. sells cheap spectrum. Unitech hits the Jackpot.” I have seen Times of India Group (TOI) spend a lot of money coming up promotional films promoting leadership and honesty in public life. They even had a TV show to find a political leader. They do all this for PR but I hope that TOI does something meaningful and spend money in the right place. According to me, they should have used the front page of all their newspaper and printed the above headline in reverse on black signifying the sad day in our country when such scams can take place in broad daylight. They would have had excellent PR as well as deterred our politicians from coming up with such stupid ideas. Imagine the effect it would have had in the whole country. Maybe it would have started a movement. I am sure that such an advt would have woken up a lot of people as well as the political parties.

I believe government should ask Unitech to return atleast 75% of the money it has made on this deal. What I am surprised about is that none of the other newspapers, business associations, opposition political parties and NGOs have taken this matter seriously.

Avinash Narula

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