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CBI questioning Dayanidhi Maran over phone-lines misuse

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Picture Credits: theindianawaaz.com

New Delhi: The CBI on Wednesday grilled former communications minister Dayanidhi Maran for over seven hours in a case against him for installing over 700 phone lines, including 300 high data capacity BSNL lines, at his Chennai residence, asking him more than 200 questions, agency officials said. He will be questioned again on Thursday.

Maran, who was communications minister in the first UPA government (2004-07), reached the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters at about 10 a.m. and was questioned by the Special Task Force (STF) between 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., an official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.

However, an official privy to the investigation, when asked how much money from the state exchequer was lost because of the scam, pegged the figure at Rs.1.80 crore – much lower than the earlier Rs.440 crore.

Picture Credits: theindianawaaz.com
Picture Credits: theindianawaaz.com

Another CBI official told IANS that the total number of phones at his Boat Club residence in Chennai were actually 770, including of private operators, not over 300 as mentioned in the FIR.

The CBI had registered an FIR in the case on July 23, 2013. Till date, however, only three people have been arrested in the matter, while the DMK leader’s name is not mentioned in the FIR as an accused.

The STF team in its seven-and-a-half-hour interrogation of Maran asked him if the high data capacity BSNL telecom lines were used to benefit the Sun TV group, owned by his elder brother, Kalanithi Maran.

“We have asked Maran to explain the misuse of 770 lines, including the 323 high-data capacity BSNL telecom lines being used at his Boat House residence in Chennai, and the mobile phone lines being used by him in Chennai and Delhi,” said a CBI official, who did not want to be named.

The former minister had been called for questioning on Monday, but but did not turn up. On Tuesday, he approached the Madras High Court for anticipatory bail which was granted.

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Madras High Court

Maran was also asked whether these high capacity lines, in which a stealth cable was used, were used illicitly by Sun TV channel to transfer huge amounts of data without paying for the service.

The agency’s investigation also centres on the fact that the system was devised in such a way that except for the “authorised BSNL staff”, no one in the state-owned telecom company was aware of it.

The interrogators also asked Maran if he had used his network when he was a minister to install the high-speed ISDN phone lines, and why he facilitated these illegal lines despite knowing that it would cause a huge loss to the BSNL.

Maran, who faced several rounds of questioning, was was also asked to explain the answers given by his aides – former additional private secretary V. Gowthaman, Sun TV’s chief technical officer S. Kannan and electrician L.S. Ravi who were earlier arrested by the agency in the case. The Madras High Court has granted bail to them.

CBI officials, part of the STF, also said Maran was asked if he had pressured BSNL officials to install these lines.

An STF member told IANS that Maran will be questioned again on Thursday, and has to reach the CBI office at 10.30 a.m.

Maran was questioned in January this year and October 2014, while Kalanithi was also questioned by the STF in September 2014.

The CBI had started its investigation in 2011 – nearly four years after the matter surfaced. In 2007, the agency had recommended action to the then telecom secretary but nothing happened.

(IANS)

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Despite All The Efforts, Political Campaign Spends on Social Media Remain A Mystery

But even as the Election Commission has made social media companies follow certain norms, such as pre-certification of political ads to prevent misuse of the platforms, such measures are unlikely to bring adequate transparency to the whole process

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The Election Commission is in talks with the representatives of Internet companies, including social media platforms, on the use of social media for campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls while the Model Code of Conduct is in force. Pixabay

Despite all the efforts put in place by social media companies to show who is paying for the political advertisements on their platforms, the users may not know the actual amount spent to run political campaigns on these websites.

Facebook has a searchable database for political ads which anyone can access. This Ad Library report from the social media giant shows that Indians have spent over Rs 6.5 crore in over 30,000 ads related to politics since February 2019 — in the run up to the general elections.

Similarly, Twitter also has an Ad Transparency Centre which allows one to search which account has spent how much in the past seven days.

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“In terms of political ads, social media companies should allow only certified agencies to post ads. This would make the monitoring process much easier for everyone. Allowing any individual to post political ads complicates the monitoring process. This is a big loophole,” he said. Pixabay

While these efforts are being regarded as important steps towards bringing transparency in the political process, they may not reflect the complete picture of how the social media space operates, according to experts.

“Influencers play a very important role in political campaigns and 90 per cent of the transactions related to these campaigns are done through cash,” social media expert Anoop Mishra told IANS.

Knowing which party is spending how much on social media is important because much of what trends on Twitter or what becomes popular on Facebook – with potential to impact voter behaviour – may actually be due to the money and manpower of political parties while creating an illusion of organic support from hundreds and thousands of users in these platforms.

“Every political party including the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), Congress, Samajwadi Party and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) are trying to push their agenda on social media. But those parties with greater money, manpower and tech expertise are likely to win the social media war,” Mishra said.

He added that political parties were employing a large number of people to make their propaganda material viral on social media.

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Similarly, Twitter also has an Ad Transparency Centre which allows one to search which account has spent how much in the past seven days.
Pixabay

“In terms of political ads, social media companies should allow only certified agencies to post ads. This would make the monitoring process much easier for everyone. Allowing any individual to post political ads complicates the monitoring process. This is a big loophole,” he said.

“Encrypted platforms like WhatsApp could be used extensively to spread advertisements and propaganda, which could be difficult to be tracked,” added Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), a Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services body.

Also Read: Report Claims, As Many As 1 Billion Indians Live in Areas of Water Scarcity
The Election Commission is in talks with the representatives of Internet companies, including social media platforms, on the use of social media for campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls while the Model Code of Conduct is in force.

But even as the Election Commission has made social media companies follow certain norms, such as pre-certification of political ads to prevent misuse of the platforms, such measures are unlikely to bring adequate transparency to the whole process. (IANS)