The draft report of the Public Accounts Committee on the 2G spectrum allocation scandal comes down heavily on the former Communications Minister, A. Raja, for not heeding the Prime Minister's advice, for ignoring the Law and Justice Ministry's suggestion that a group of Ministers be set up to examine issues related to grant of telecom licences and related matters, for not properly consulting the Telecom Commission and, above all, for arbitrarily changing cut-off dates for the first come, first served policy adopted for grant of licences and spectrum.
The report was “leaked” a day ahead of Thursday's meeting, when it is to be considered by members and adopted, even as charges were levelled by Congress and DMK members of the committee that chairman M.M. Joshi had shown his “malafide and mischievous intention by giving completely false information on witnesses that had deposed before the PAC.” Their allegation was that the report had in fact been written before April 16, well before the committee completed its work, as was clear from “serious mistakes and falsehoods that had appeared.”
They said they wanted the draft report considered paragraph by paragraph and wanted time to give their response or enough discussion time to enable them to arrive at consensus and a unanimous report. Led by K.S. Rao, they pointed out that the draft report mentioned deposition by key witnesses — the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister — on April 16 when in fact that meeting stood cancelled. A similar “mistake and untruth” appeared in relation to the April 15 meeting, they charged.
At the very outset, the 270-page report said: “The Prime Minister was, in fact, misled when he was informed by the Minister [A. Raja] that the issue of auction of spectrum was considered, but not recommended, by the Telecom Commission.” Also, the Committee was “highly perturbed” that the “considered and imperative advice given by the Prime Minister… in his letter dated 2nd November 2007 to the then Minister of Communications was just disregarded by him.”
However, the Prime Minister and his office have not been entirely spared. By keeping the PMO at “arm's length” from the 2G spectrum issue, he had helped the Minister “execute his unfair and dubious designs,” the report noted. It said the PMO failed to note the forebodings or was “rendered a mute spectator.” The report said the PAC was “not convinced” that the PMO did not receive any suggestion from the Law Ministry that a GoM be set up. It seemed that the “counter-view of the Communications Minister got the overriding preference.”
While noting the “presumptive loss” to the exchequer as calculated variously by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Central Bureau of Investigation from Rs. 40,000 crore to Rs. 1,76,000 crore, the draft report observed with dismay that the Finance Ministry had made no effort to arrive at any estimate of the losses suffered. The report finds fault with the Finance Minister [at that time P. Chidambaram] for not taking swift action against those who had caused a huge loss to the exchequer and instead pleading with the Prime Minister to “treat the matter as closed.”
The draft report uses some very strong language against Mr. Raja — chargesheeted, and now in jail — saying “his assurance to the Prime Minister that he was not deviating from established and existing procedures was a blatant lie for, he had completely distorted the first come, first served policy [of the earlier government].”
Vahanvati pulled up
The committee had some harsh words for the Solicitor-General (G.E. Vahanvati, now Attorney-General) who, it said, bypassing the Law Ministry, had directly given an opinion to the Ministry of Communications that what it proposed to do (in allocation of licences) was “fair and reasonable” and made for “transparency.” The same person, now as Attorney-General, is of the opinion that a Minister should not directly ask the Law Officer for his opinion. This was also stated categorically by the Law Secretary deposing before the committee.