Sucheta Dalal :The lady speaks
Sucheta Dalal

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The Radia tapes: The lady speaks  

May 24, 2011

There have been many arrests in the 2G scandal, but Niira Radia, the lady who set up many sleazy deals, is still untouched; and so are corrupt bureaucrats

Sucheta Dalal

One woman’s telephone conversations with India’s movers and shakers, cutting across business, politics, media and bureaucracy unleashed a chain of events that has led to a slew of arrests in the telecom scam. Niira Radia’s indiscreet conversations over a tapped line are easily available on the Internet; yet, her deposition before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filled some key gaps and caused another flutter. Her statements, that the Anil Ambani group controlled Swan Telecom, and that Sharad Pawar had indirect control over DB Realty as well as the greedy demands of the former telecom minister A Raja and his ex-personal secretary RK Chandolia, are already in the public domain. But many other nuggets have interesting revelations.

Almost every clarification regarding Ms Radia’s conversations with Ratan Tata and top Tata executives only underlines the fact that her role went far beyond public relations, quite contrary to the Tata Code of Conduct. She officially represented them on telecom matters with regard to non-allocation of spectrum and cross-licences for Jammu & Kashmir, North East and Assam. She discussed demerger of government land in VSNL (the erstwhile Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd) with executives and the “funding and equity of Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors” with Ratan Tata. She cultivated bureaucrats ‘sympathetic’ to her big two clients—the Tatas and Reliance. And, happily enough, many of them went on to chair regulatory bodies such as TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal) and TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) or joined her consulting firm. While there have been many arrests in the 2G scandal, the lady who set up many sleazy deals remains untouched—will she turn approver? More importantly, Ms Radia’s tapes establish how bureaucrats, who align themselves with powerful corporate houses and tweak policy in their favour, smoothly transition to cushy corporate assignments, often without even the mandatory cooling period. This rot in the steel frame must be attacked to root out rampaging corruption, because while politicians need to be re-elected every five years, corrupt bureaucrats can damage the country for several decades. 

(This article was first published in the Moneylife magazine edition dated 19 May 2011 that was available on the stands from 5 May 2011.)


-- Sucheta Dalal