Shyamal Ghosh, whose home was raided on Saturday by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with ‘irregular’ spectrum allocation to telcos around 10 years ago, is “well regarded” by his contemporaries and described as “an honest officer”. So, what went wrong for this 1965 batch, Gujarat cadre IAS who’s been at the helm of several ministries, including telecom?
Ghosh was in the telecom ministry at a time when the sector was still young and things were being done in a hit and trial method, a bureaucrat said. The allegation against Ghosh is that he favoured some telecom companies by allowing allocation of additional spectrum at a low cost, thereby causing a loss of over Rs 500 crore to the exchequer. In the latest 2G scam under A Raja, the loss figure is estimated at Rs 1.76 lakh crore.
Ghosh was secretary in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) from February 7, 2000, to May 31, 2002, during the NDA rule. The controversial decision of allocation of additional spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz to telcos was taken in 2002, when Pramod Mahajan was the telecom minister.
There’s a sense of outrage among bureaucrats over the CBI raid at Ghosh’s residence, a senior official told Business Standard.
“While there was scope to make big money in telecom at that time, it also offered great opportunity to people in the government to popularize mobile telephony,” another official said. However, he added that “top bureaucrats have to often go with the minister concerned even if they are conscious of a wrong policy.” When bureaucrats could not say no, there was always a risk, another official said.
The CBI FIR has not named Mahajan, as he expired on May 3, 2006.
While an official Business Standard spoke to compared Ghosh’s plight with that of Siddharth Behura, former DoT secretary who worked with DMK member and former telecom minister A Raja, others said the two cases were entirely different.
If it was a policy ratified by the Cabinet in 2001, wasn’t it a collective decision? Yes, according to one of Ghosh’s batch mates, but the telecom ministry initiated the proposal and convinced the Cabinet that it was the right thing to do. Also, the CBI was looking at implementation of the policy decision, not the policy per se, he added.
Besides DoT, Ghosh was a secretary in the textile ministry, too. Before that, as a joint secretary in the ministry of chemical and fertilizer, he had a brush with controversy, as he was involved in the management of the Bhopal gas tragedy many years ago.
After his stint as the DoT secretary, Ghosh went on to head the newly formed Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund at Sanchar Bhavan, which houses DoT. As the chief administrator at the USO Fund, he took some key decisions related to rural telephony. From serious to flashy, he also became the chairman of National Institute of Fashion Technology.
Ghosh was not available for comment for this story.