Two editors, Vinod Mehta of Outlook and Manu Joseph of Open magazine, told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Monday it was their journalistic duty to place in the public domain the transcripts of tapped conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and others which had a direct bearing on the 2G spectrum allocation scandal.
After the meeting, PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi told journalists that “they [the editors] were clear, frank and non-partisan” in their responses. Their aim was to place the facts before the people so that they should know what were happening and not to target anyone specifically. Dr. Joshi said the two editors, who were the first to publish the Radia tapes, told the Committee that the tapes were verified for authenticity of voices and only those transcripts that were related to the 2G scandal were published.
Both Mr. Mehta and Mr. Joseph told journalists that they were under oath not to reveal what had transpired at the meeting but it was “very cordial” and they were ready to “fully cooperate” with the Committee.
However, when the Committee some days ago wanted Mr. Mehta to hand over the tapes to it, he refused. If there was some specific information the Committee was seeking, he would cooperate but he could not compromise sources or hand over the tapes, he had told The Hindu.
Meanwhile, N.K. Singh, PAC member and Janata Dal (United) member from the Rajya Sabha, recused himself from Monday's session and all subsequent meetings that might deal with the players in the Radia tapes. In a letter to Dr. Joshi, he said that although his conversation with Ms. Radia had nothing to do with the 2G affair, he preferred to avoid “any possible conflict of interest.”
He told The Hindu that he had about a week ago mentioned to Dr. Joshi that he would like to recuse himself but wrote the letter only just before the meeting.
There were indications from the JD(U) that he was not likely to be re-elected to the PAC as a party member when his term ends on April 30. Said a JD (U) member: “Both Sharad Yadav [JD-U president] and Nitish Kumar [Bihar Chief Minister] are conscious of their image and would not like to do anything that might prove controversial. They are aware Mr. Singh was part of the Radia tapes in relation to some tax concessions for [industrialist] Mukesh Ambani.”
Dr. Joshi was repeatedly asked by journalists whether he would now call the main players in the Radia tapes — those who figured in the conversations related to lobbying for the telecom portfolio in the Cabinet for A. Raja immediately after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
His response suggested that would be normal and natural, but he said it was for the Committee to decide and he did not take unilateral decisions. As yet the Committee had not taken a call on whether it should call the Prime Minister, taking up the offer made by him to Dr. Joshi.
If Dr. Joshi had done his homework and conducted the meeting very well and fairly — as Mr. Mehta said — it was the DMK member on the Committee who asked some “pointed and sharp questions.”