Absolving himself of any guilt, the former Telecom Secretary and key accused in the 2G scam, Siddharth Behura, shifted the blame for the 2G mess on ex-Telecom Minister A. Raja and the Prime Minister’s Office when questioned by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday.
Mr. Behura, who had earlier also served under Mr. Raja, joined the DoT on January 1, 2008. Within 10 days, on January 10, 2008, after Mr. Behura’s approval on file, Mr. Raja illegally granted 122 Letters of Intent (LoIs) with linked 2G spectrum at 2001 rates which, the CAG’s estimates say, caused a revenue loss of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore.
CPI leader and JPC member Gurudas Dasgupta questioned how three specific violations in the award of LoIs took place: the Transaction of Business Rules 1961 mandating agreement between any ministry with the Finance Ministry in matters of large expenditures or revenues, the Cabinet decision of 2003 mandating concurrence between the Telecom and Finance Ministries on spectrum pricing and Finance Secretary D. Subbarao’s November 22, 2008 letter, explicitly seeking a stay on any grant of LoIs or spectrum.
Mr. Behura claimed that everything had already been decided by the time he took over. He said Principal Secretary in the PMO Pulok Chatterji, who was a senior PMO official at that time, had in a meeting assured him that all issues relating to 2G had already been settled. Mr Behura also admitted to a difference of opinion with Mr. Raja on the issue of inter-se priority of applicants based on the date of applications.
As Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Chatterji recently replaced T.K.A. Nair, who was the Principal Secretary during the 2G scam. It is a matter of record that Mr. Chatterji knew about Mr. Raja’s plans and in a note to Mr. Nair, less than a week before the infamous January 10, 2008 press release, he stated, “new operators may be allotted spectrum only up to the threshold level on payment of normal fees.”
This effectively sealed the fate of spectrum prices in 2008 being linked to the Rs.1,658-crore price discovered in 2001.
Subsequent file notings in January 2008 which say: “PM wants this informally shared with DoT. Does not want a formal communication and wants the PMO to be at arm’s length,” have been a further source of embarrassment for the PMO.