It was to ensure that departments spoke with one voice
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has written an explanatory note to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying that the controversial Finance Ministry document was actually an inter-Ministerial background paper, prepared with the help of several departments, to ensure that different government representatives, summoned to give evidence on the 2G spectrum allocation issue, would adopt a common position.
Official sources said Mr. Mukherjee's explanatory note also stressed that since the document, produced after a series of meetings convened by the Cabinet Secretariat and attended by officials from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), and the Ministries of Finance, Telecom and Law, was only a background paper, it could not be used as evidence in a court of law. Indeed, the Finance Ministry document, dated March 25, 2011, describes itself as “Office Memorandum” /Sub: Allocation and pricing of 2G spectrum/ A copy of basic facts prepared on allocation and pricing of 2G spectrum is enclosed.”
The need for such a background note was felt, the sources said, in January 2011, after Home Minister P. Chidambaram made some public statements saying he had favoured the auction route: the Prime Minister felt such statements not only created confusion, but with officials and Ministers being summoned to give evidence on the 2G issues in a variety of fora, ranging from Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which was already looking at the matter, to various courts of law, it was imperative that the government speak with one voice. It was at this point that the Opposition parties were also clamouring for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on 2G.
The meetings convened by the Cabinet Secretariat began with key officials from the PMO, and the Ministries of Finance, Telecom and Law in attendance. The group held more than 10 sittings, and those who attended included T.K.A. Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and Vini Majahan, Joint Secretary in the PMO. The draft note that emerged was then sent to the Finance Ministry for finalisation: it was then trimmed and the final document, signed by Dr. P.G.S. Rao, Deputy Director in the Infrastructure and Investment Division of the Finance Ministry, was despatched to Ms. Mahajan at the PMO. Technically, therefore, the sources said, it was not a note emanating from the Finance Ministry – it only finalised it after receiving inputs from all those departments that had played a role in the decision to adopt the licence route in the 2G spectrum allocation matter.
Meanwhile, Mr. Chidambaram met the Prime Minister at a lunch hosted by the latter in honour of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at which several others were present. Mr. Mukherjee returned to the capital late on Wednesday evening from Kolkata and drove straight to North Block, but it appeared that he would meet the Prime Minister only on Friday, before he again returns to Kolkata to attend the Durga Puja festivities there. Dr. Singh will be away in Sikkim on Thursday to meet the victims of the recent earthquake there, and review the rehabilitation work.
Seeking to find a way to defuse the crisis, Union Ministers P.K. Bansal, V. Narayanasamy and Rajiv Shukla met Mr. Mukherjee at his residence on Wednesday night. There was no official word on what transpired at the meeting.