Date: 12 May 2011


Joshi PACs a Punch\\\\\\\\ Author: Dhiraj Nayyar\\\\\\\\\ Publication: India Today\\\\\\\\\\ Date: May 9, 2011\\\\\\\ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ \\\\\\\\\\\\\ Introduction: The Draft report on the 2G scam accuses Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram and sparks parties confrontation\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ A draft report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on the 2G spectrum scam is devastating in its criticism of then Union finance minister P. Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The 21-member PAC is headed by BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi. It has seven MPs from the Congress, four from the BJP and two each from the DMK and the AIADMK, and one each from the BJD, JD(U), BSP, SP, Shiv Sena and the CPI(M). The Congress and DMK MP's threatened to stall the report. If necessary, they were prepared to vote out Joshi as chairman. \\\\\\\\\\\ The draft PAC report is severe on Chidambaram. It refers to a note written by him to Manmohan on February 15, 2008, soon after A. Raja, former telecom minister, had allocated licences without an auction, in which he argued that spectrum pricing should be based on its scarcity value and efficiency of usage-which can happen only through an open competitive bidding process. He followed that argument by suggesting to the prime minister that the matter be treated as closed. The report states that it was "shocked" and "dismayed" by the finance minister's note. Accusing Chidambaram of orchestrating a cover-up, the PAC recommends a thorough probe into the former finance minister's actions. "The Committee cannot rest satisfied unless the matter is probed in its entirety and the reasons for such an unusual act on the part of (then) finance minister are explained to the nation," says the report. \\\\\\\\ Sensing the mood of PAC's chairman, the Congress and DMK MPs were in a running battle until last week to delay the release of the report. The ruling coalition MPs ostensibly wanted Raja to depose before the PAC before the report was finalised. Joshi may have smelt a delaying tactic. The PAC has a one year term which is to expire on April 30. While Joshi will continue to chair the PAC for another year, the membership will change next month. The induction of new members would have inevitably delayed the report. \\\\\\\\\\\\\ More than the indictment of Chidambaram, the Congress MPs are worried about the indictment of the prime minister. They went into attack mode on the evening of April 27 as soon as reports began to appear in the media. Congress PAC members K.S. Rao, Saifuddin Soz and Navin Jindal and DMK member T. Siva blamed Joshi for publicising the report before full discussion and accused him of "hurriedly" pushing it for "political mileage". Said Rao, "We all are for a unanimous report. But why is he in a hurry? What is the intention? Do we have to say everything that the chairman says?" According to Rao, Joshi intended to "destabilise" and "defame the Cabinet and the Government" in a "predetermined manner with a biased mind and mala fide intention". "The report has discrepancies. It mentions some people who deposed before the PAC when they actually did not. Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati and CBI Director A.P. Singh were scheduled to depose on April 15 but they did not. The report says they did," Jindal told India Today, adding that "this is only a draft version." The Congress MPs said they would take up these issues at the meeting scheduled on April 28. At the time we went to press, the meeting was still in progress. Some Congress members said that they would demand a vote on the report. The ruling coalition was confident of mustering a majority. The UPA has only nine members on the 21-member PAC and would need the support of two more MPs, probably from the SP and BSO, to reach the majority mark of 11. \\\\\\\\\\\\ The Congress has reason to be worried about the report. While the draft report offers the prime minister some relief by stating that Raja "disregarded" his advice on auctions and "misled" him on what the recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) were, that's where the benefit of doubt ends. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The report raises serious questions about the sequence of events in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) that followed Raja's letter of December 26, 2007 in which he clearly rejected the prime minister's advice on auctions. According to the PAC, the prime minister was given Raja's letter of December 26, 2007, along with then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee's note of advice (suggesting auctions) on January 7, 2008, 12 days after Raja's letter was received at the PMO. Curiously, on January 11, 2008, the private secretary to the prime minister conveyed his boss's desire to "take into account the developments concerning the issue of licences". That was one day after Raja had issued Unified Access Service (UAS) licences on January 10. The file was sent back to the prime minister on January 15 with a note of clarification. The file then came back to the private secretary who noted that the "prime minister wants this informally shared with the department and does not want a formal communication and wants the PMO to be at arm's length". Was the prime minister knowingly distancing himself from a scam that was beginning to unravel? Says the PAC report, "The prime minister's desire to keep the pmo at arm's length indirectly helped the communications minister to go ahead and execute his unfair, arbitrary and dubious designs".\\\\\\\\\\\\ The PAC report also uses the letter the prime minister wrote to Raja on January 3, 2008, acknowledging the receipt of his December 26 letter to pin responsibility on Manmohan. Says the report, "On January 3, 2008, by just acknowledging the minister's letter, the prime minister seemed to have given his indirect green signal to go ahead with his plan and decisions." \\\\\\\\\\\\ The report takes umbrage at the prime minister's claim, first floated in the public domain by Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia after the damning Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, that revenue generation was never a primary consideration. Says the report, "(The statement) is self-contradictory in view of his own statement in India Telecom-2007 to the effect that the revenue potential to the Government must not be lost sight of as Governments across the globe have harnessed substantial revenue while allocating spectrum." Then, with what can only be a touch of sarcasm, the report adds, "The PMO is required to reconcile the two divergent views of the prime minister." \\\\\\\\\\ There are two other instances cited in the report that point to a dubious role played by the PMO in the buildup to the 2G scam. The first instance dates back to October 2007 after 575 applications had been received by the Department of Telecom (DoT) for uas licences by the cutoff date of October 1. At the time, Member (technology) in the DoT wrote to the secretary, department of legal affairs, seeking legal opinion on how to handle the rush of applications in a fair and equitable manner. According to the pac report, the secretary, ministry of legal affairs and the law minister concurred on the need to refer the issue to an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM). Raja wrote to the prime minister, terming the law ministry's suggestion "out of context". At this point, the PMO should have referred the difference of opinion between the two ministries to the Cabinet. However, it did not. The PMO later told the PAC that it did not receive any suggestion from the law ministry for an EGoM. The PAC report rubbishes the PMO's claim of ignorance. Says the report, "The PMO's reply that no suggestion of the law minister to set up an EGoM was received by them does not convince the Committee... The communication minister himself apprised the prime minister of the law minister's view along with his own view." According to the PAC, "The pmo certainly either failed to see the forebodings or was rendered a mute spectator." \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The second instance dates back to 2006 when the UPS Government changed the terms of reference of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on telecom which had been set during the tenure of the NDA government in October 2003. Specifically, the spectrum pricing issue was dropped from the terms of reference of the GoM at the request of then telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran. The terms of reference were changed by the Cabinet Secretariat under direct orders from the PMO on November 27, 2006. The finance ministry was now out of the loop on spectrum pricing and the decision was solely to be the DoT's. Incredibly, and in contravention of business rules, the change in the terms of reference was never brought for approval to the Cabinet, not even post-facto. Says the report, "The Cabinet secretary and the PMO knew about these developments but did not take corrective action." \\\\\\\\\\\\\ Ironically, the Government resisted the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), foregoing an entire session of Parliament, insisting that the PAC could investigate the 2G scam. The PAC has the authority to examine the government's annual financial accounts, government expenditure and CAG reports. The government may have hoped that the PAC would stick strictly to examining the CAG report on 2G. But it has gone further. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ What is for certain is a rise in political temperature as the Congress takes the battle to the bjp on a "biased" PAC report. The Opposition, on the ascendant as the Government continues to be mired in corruption, will not miss this opportunity to corner the UPA. The political wrangling will inevitably take a toll on governance. 000000000