A legal opinion given by a Kerala-based lawyer in 2013 is being cited by the management of state-run telecom giant Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) as it carries out the “illegal mutation” of approx Rs 3 lakh crores of Department of Telecom (DoT)’s properties in BSNL’s name, internal documents accessed by National Herald have revealed.
The legal opinion, given by one P Kunjukrishnan Potti from Thiruvananthapuram on Jan 11, 2013, has been “conveniently” used by the BSNL’s current Chief Managing Director (CMD) Anupam Srivastava to flout a cabinet order (2000) as well as a presidential directive (2011), government officials have told National Herald.
“In the case of BSNL, the above charges (stamp duty) should be agreed to be paid by the GOI. Thus, there would be no financial implication for BSNL on this account,” stipulated a secret note from Centre to the Department of Telecom Services in 2000.
At the heart of the entire transfer process are 7,000 properties across the country, whose combined worth is between Rs two and three lakh crores. Officials say that states are entitled to a stamp duty charges between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 crore on the current portfolio of properties, none of which has been paid to the states.
At the time of its inception in 2000, a cabinet order issued at the time clearly stated that stamp duty had to be paid in carrying out transfer of title deeds of properties from the DoT to newly-formed BSNL. The transfer of properties in BSNL’s name is central to Modi government’s “revival plan,” which entails monetisation of BSNL’s land assets by leasing them to private players, which in turn has been a point of friction between the employees and the management.
Officials say that Srivastava, after assuming the charge as CMD in 2015, has been pretty eager to take the process of “illegal mutation” to a “logical conclusion.” While it was during the tenure of his predecessor that the legal opinion was made available, it is Srivastava who has written at least three letters to different circles heads of the BSNL across the country, asking them to get done with transfer of properties citing the legal opinion by the Kerala-based lawyer.
In at least three different letters to the circles Chief General Managers (CGMs) over 2015 and 2016, dated 14.07.2015, 01.12.2015 and 09.02.2016, Srivastava expressed disappointment over the slow progress in mutating the ownerships of DoT properties to BSNL.
In his letter dated Feb 2, 2016, Srivastava stated, “While going through the reports received from BSNL field units, I am disappointed to note that only 1,827 properties out of 7,406 have been mutated so far despite several requests and reminders from BSNL. The progress achieved in this matter is only 24.67 per cent.”
In another letter dated July 4, 2018, this time from DK Singhal (GM, BSNL) to CMDs, the writer stated that “only 4,490 land parcels” out of a total of 7,576 had been mutated as of then.
The Comptroller of Communications Accounts (CCA), posted under the Department of Telecom, has been entrusted with ensuring that the mutation of properties are carried out in different states by following a due procedure. “The heads of CCA units shall be the administrative head of the assets being retained herewith,” reiterated an order from the Government of India on April 19, 2011.
Now, CCAs from almost every state have expressed their reservations over the ongoing transfer of properties in BSNL’s name.
“Isn’t it a clear violation of rules that a Rs 145 legal opinion has taken precedence over a cabinet order as well as a presidential decree. This won’t stand in the court,” said a CCA, who has been with the DoT for more than two decades.