New Delhi: A virtual telephone exchange that was illegally hooked to a foreign commercial satellite floating over the Indian subcontinent has been busted close to the Pakistan border, raising serious security concerns.
A science graduate, Akash Deep, was arrested following the busting in Amritsar, but not before he and his foreign associates had cheated the government of Rs.30 million during the four months they allowed people to receive calls coming from an as yet unidentified illegal foreign centre.
The vigilance cell of the Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Punjab Police cracked the network that used an illegal satellite gateway.
The set-up, official sources here said, received international calls through the satellite gateway and pushed them into the Indian landline network using the Internet and GSM connections, disguising them as local calls.
"The calls appeared to be a local one originating from a GSM network. Thereby the government lost out on international long distance revenue," a DoT official told IANS.
This meant that a call originating from, say, London was pushed into the Indian telephone network through a local GSM telephone. At the DoT station, these calls would appear to be made locally, from a mobile telephone.
In normal circumstances, the DoT earns a certain amount of money on every international call received in India. The official said the racket had raised major security issues, more so since Amritsar shares a border with Pakistan.
"The racket has exposed severe security breaches as the system which was being used to run this operation was equivalent to any satellite channel for which a series of government clearances is required," the official said.
"But here the government was completely unaware of even its existence, and the operator was happily running the business."
Efforts are on to trace who were Akash Deep’s foreign collaborators and where they were based.
Sources in the DoT said Akash Deep apparently had access to a transponder of one of the many commercial satellites floating over the Indian subcontinent.
"The transponder was booked for him by one of the ILD (international long distance) operators who wanted to avoid paying up to the Indian government as a part of ILD laws," the official added.
Also, the operator of the illegal racket was using equipment including dish antenna with receiver transponder set-up, amplifiers, modems and other software, procurement of which require import permission.
"To install such a set-up requires even a more stringent clearance as the operator has to obtain licences and frequency clearances from Wireless Planning Committee and other inter-ministerial groups," the DoT official asserted.
DoT officials said while the Amritsar operator was passing the calls on the local network using 256 GSM SIM cards, the monetary transactions between Akash Deep and the foreign centre were done through hawala channels.
"The police are working on a broader platform checking out bank accounts to trace the international operators involved in this case," the DoT official said.
Although there have been other international telephone call rackets in the past where local mobile connections were used to disguise international calls, this one assumes significance because of the use of a satellite gateway.
"Earlier international calls were passed into India over the Internet using the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and was fed into the local network using mobile phones," said a DoT officer. "This was much more complicated."
By Amit Mukherjee, 14 Jan 2006 # IANS