In the eye of a storm following confirmation that the voice of an unidentified MP heard on the Niira Radia tapes plotting to push a parliamentary debate Reliance's way was his own, N.K. Singh said on Monday that his conversation with the lobbyist of Mukesh Ambani was a “social informal chat” in the wider interest of India's energy security.
Mr. Singh is heard on tape telling Ms. Radia that he is firefighting for RIL to ensure that a tax break given to gas production in the 2009 budget is made retrospective. In “working out a strategy of how to [do this], one of the complications is that…Mr. Arun Shourie has gone and got himself completely on the other side,” he tells Ms. Radia. Mr. Shourie is listed to speak on the matter in the Rajya Sabha debate on the Finance Bill, he says. “Now fortunately, what we have managed to do is to make him the second speaker and made Venkaiah [Naidu] the first. So I don't know what is Mukesh's relations with Venkaiah.”
When Ms. Radia says that the head of RIL's oil and gas division, P.M.S. Prasad, knows him well, Mr. Singh says: “Then I am going to get him flown today to talk to Venkaiah.”
Asked (i) why he wanted to know how Mukesh Ambani's relations with Mr. Naidu were, (ii) why he said he would have Mr. Prasad flown in to speak to Mr. Naidu, (iii) whether he spoke to anyone in RIL about Mr. Prasad flying in and (iv) whether indeed Mr. Prasad came and met Mr. Naidu, Mr. Singh would only answer in a general way.
“The conversation was in the nature of a social informal chat which cannot be subjected to a hindsight dissection of this nature. No informal conversations are ever made as if later they would be put to the test of the Indian Evidence Act,” he said. But he said he did not speak either to Mr. Ambani or Mr. Prasad about the latter coming to Delhi. “To the best of my knowledge I do not think Prasad came to Delhi for any briefing to Mr. Venkaiah Naidu.”
On what role he had played in managing the reordering of speakers and who he was referring to when he told Ms. Radia “we have to orchestrate who will speak” in the debate, Mr. Singh said that “at no stage [did] I speak to anyone in the BJP leadership for reordering the speakers.” He also claimed there was “no question of seeking to influence the contents of any intervention.”
Asked whether it is a part of the job definition of an MP to “work out a strategy” for a private company to get a particular tax break, as he had told Ms. Radia, Mr. Singh — who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar for the Janata Dal (United) — said whatever advocacy he was doing on the tax break front was not for Reliance but for India and because investments had been garnered in the gas sector on the basis of assurances of a tax holiday. “It was, therefore, a broader national energy strategy than any Corporate Strategy which was under consideration,” he said.
Keywords: Radia tapes