On 8 May 2015, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India tabled a report in Parliament that sharply indicted the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for providing an “undue benefit” to Reliance Jio—a telecom company owned by Mukesh Ambani as part of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). According to the CAG, DoT did so by allowing Jio to offer voice services under the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum it had obtained through the 4G (fourth-generation electro-magnetic spectrum) auction conducted in 2010.
The report stated that the licence the company had acquired at that time did not allow it to include voice telephony among the services it could offer under the spectrum. A Unified Licence—which allowed the transformation of Reliance Jio from an internet service provider into a full services provider—was made available to it quietly, and as the CAG report alleged, at a price that was far below the prevailing market price. The cost of this “undue benefit” according to the report: Rs 3,367 crore.
However, during the press conference that followed the submission of this report, it became clear that there was more to the story. Suman Saxena, the deputy CAG, found herself being pushed to answer a question she had not quite anticipated. The question revolved around the disparity between the report that was tabled, and the one that had been drafted by the CAG nearly a year ago. In August 2014, the CAG had drafted a report in which the original figure for the “undue benefit” was Rs 22,842 crore—seven times higher than the figure stated in the report eventually presented in May. How and why did this happen? Saxena refused to provide any clear answers to this query, and merely said, “A draft is a draft.”