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February 7, 2000
Oppn uses telecom scam against ruling Congress in OrissaM I Khan in Bhubaneswar
The state opposition is using a multi-million telecom scam as a lever during the upcoming state assembly elections since most of those allegedly involved in this scam belong to the ruling Congress.
The scam came to light when a TAC member Jatin Dash, an investigative journalist, sought a reply to his question last year from the Bhubaneswar District Telecom Authority. He had asked for a list of those defaulting on payment of their telephone bills in the last few years.
When the list was released, it caused a sensation, for among the over 400 names were those of prominent politicians of the ruling party, a few opposition leaders and some big industrial houses in Orissa.
The biggest defaulter, who has to pay Rs 830,883 for his phone (413888) was K C Lenka, a former Union minister and a cabinet minister in the present Congress government in the state.
Also on the list, owing from Rs 50,000 to over Rs 100,000, are Dambarudhar Ulaka, a Congress MLA and former minister; Chintamani Panigrahi, a former MP and governor; Parama Pujari, a cabinet minister in the state govt; Habibulla Khan, asenior congress MLA and former minister; Ajaya Jena, a Biju Janata Dal leader and former MLA; former MLAs Rudramadhab Roy and B N Swain; and Smt Ila Panda, former Janata Dal MP.
Dambarudhar Ulaka, Parama Pujari,and K C Lenka and some other Congress leaders are contesting the election.
"We are going to pursue the telecom ministry to order for a probe since we anticipate (the exposure) of irregularities and corruption," says Jatin Dash, a TAC member.
While more than Rs 100,000 rupees is pending against Dambarudhar Ulaka, Chintamani Panigrahi, Parama Pujari, Ajaya Jena, and Habibulla Khan, the others have not paid dues amounting between Rs 20,000 and Rs 50,000 each.
Prominent among the industrial houses that figures in the defaulters' list are Kalinga Mines, Orissa Lamps and Orient Private Ltd.
Kalinga Mines has yet to pay Rs 310,704, Orissa Lamps Rs 190,990, and Orient Private Ltd Rs 198,960.
"After much dilly dallying the Bhubaneswar telecom officials submitted thelist of the defaulters" Jatin Das says.
But a senior telecom department official said that the authority pursued the defaulters but few coughed up the money. But he can't explain why the lines were not cut despite non-payment of dues.
The second meeting of the district telecom advisory committee held here on January 28 showed there were even bigger problems to tackle.
"More than 10,000 files of telephone subscribers are missing from the department, a fact the officials have admitted in the meeting, a TAC member revealed. The matter of leasing out of ground cable work to private parties without calling for open tenders, and the questionable purchase of stationery also came for scrutiny, he said.
The members were surprised when department officials admitted that many people in the list are untraceable. While the departmental officials claims the charges could not be recovered because a number of subscribers went to the court, others say the department has taken no real interest in the matter.
A few months ago a subdivisional officer of telecom was arrested on charges of accumulating large amounts of cash and owning property disproportionate to his known source of income.
Now the members who demanded an inquiry into the irregularities last year are hoping that at least the Union minister of telecommunications will do something.
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