List includes 9 Union Ministers, 15 Secretaries, 2 AGs, CVC and present CBI, ED directors
The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the 2G scam is now at a crossroads: it must decide whether it will follow the path of politics or deliver on its constitutional mandate of pursuit of justice. The battle within the committee is over the final list of witnesses from the political leadership and bureaucracy.
Several names have been proposed by MPs, and Tuesday’s meeting is expected to be a tussle over the final list. The cast of characters, critical to enabling the committee to arrive at meaningful conclusions in its final report, includes nine Union Ministers, 15 Secretaries, two Attorneys-General, and the Central Vigilance Commissioners between 1999 and 2009, as well as the present CBI and ED Directors.
NDA witnesses (1998-2004)
Jagmohan was Telecom Minister from 1998 to June 1999 and replaced by Ram Vilas Paswan, just two months before the August 1999 migration package was put in place. The package shifted the entire industry from the regime of a 10-year licence and a fixed licence fee to a 20-year licence and a revenue share arrangement. Mr. Jagmohan is said to have opposed the package, which the Congress alleges caused a large loss to the exchequer. Mr. Paswan’s relevance is underscored by the subscriber-linked spectrum allocation, when he was Telecom Minister from October 1999 to September 2001, which is also under the scanner for allegedly causing a revenue loss.
The 1999 package was based on the legal opinion of Soli Sorabjee, who was then Attorney-General.
Yashwant Sinha was Finance Minister from 1998 to 2002, and the migration package was announced during his term. Vijay Kelkar, Finance Secretary from 1998 to 1999, and the former Revenue Secretary, Jawed Chowdhary, need to be called to answer allegations that the NDA government had foregone revenue because of the package.
Next on the list is Arun Shourie, last NDA Telecom Minister from 2003 to May 2004, on whose watch the migration occurred from limited mobility to full mobility in October 2003, along with the then Telecom Secretary, Vinod Vaish, and the then TRAI Chairman, Pradip Baijal. The Congress alleges that it was the NDA in 2003 that started licence allocation with spectrum on the first come, first served basis — a policy the UPA followed only from 2004 to 2008.
Jaswant Singh was not only Finance Minister from 2003 and 2004 but also chairman of the GoM, which on October 30, 2003 approved the TRAI’s recommendations, leading to the migration of limited mobility operators to full mobility, and eventually to the grant of the first set of mobile licences without auction in 2004.
Mr. Jaswant Singh and Mr. Shourie have already been questioned by the CBI. A JPC member has also demanded that the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, be questioned, but that may be impossible given his poor health.
Two of Mr. Vajpayee’s key aides also figure prominently on the lists. They are Brijesh Mishra, who served as the NDA’s first National Security Adviser and Principal Secretary between November 1998 to May 2004, and N.K. Singh, who served in various positions, including as Special Secretary in the PMO during the NDA regime. To their credit, Mr. Yashwant Sinha and Mr. Jaswant Singh have offered to depose before the JPC.
UPA witnesses (2004-2009)
The list of heavyweights being demanded by the Opposition, including the BJP, the CPI and the CPI(M), begins with Manmohan Singh for his role in 2006-07 and 2007-08. In 2006-07, he approved the dropping of spectrum pricing from the GoM’s modified Terms of Reference on December 7, 2006 at the behest of the then Telecom Minister, Dayanidhi Maran, leading to the issuance of 14 licences to Aircel in 2006 at the 2001 rates. Later, Mr. Maran had to resign on the charge of receiving an illegal gratification of roughly Rs. 550 crore from Maxis-Aircel in a quid pro quo for the licences granted to it in December 2006.
Some JPC members want the Prime Minister to explain his role in 2007-08. It is a matter of record that several of the illegalities committed by A. Raja as Telecom Minister —choosing the first come, first served (FCFS) over auctions, arbitrarily advancing the cut-off date, avoiding the GoM despite the Law Ministry’s directions and manipulating the FCFS process — are among the key reasons cited by the Supreme Court for cancelling 122 licences in its February 2, 2012 judgment. Mr. Raja and Dr. Singh exchanged four letters on November 2, 2007 and December 26, 2007, in this regard.
Mr. Maran and Mr. Raja are important as both had to resign as Cabinet Ministers after being implicated in the scam. Mr. Raja has just been released after spending nearly 18 months in jail after he was arrested by the CBI in February 2011.
There is also a demand to call P. Chidambaram, Finance Minister during 2006-08, during whose tenure Mr. Maran gave away 23 licences in 2006-07 and Mr. Raja 157 licences in 2007-08 at the 2001 prices. Several contradictions between Dr. Singh’s statements and that of Mr. Chidambaram have been publicly aired since February 2011.
Among the bureaucrats that the CPI and the BJP want to include are Siddhartha Behura, who joined as Secretary, DoT, just 10 days prior to the 2G scam, on January 1, 2008, and remained in office till 2009. With him was R.K. Chandolia, who served as Private Secretary to Mr. Raja. Both Mr. Behura and Mr. Chandolia went to jail with Mr. Raja in 2011 and were released only a few months ago.
Additionally, D. Subbarao, the present RBI Governor, and the then Finance Secretary, had written letters to the DoT, and was party to several internal notes including that of 11.2.2008, and 7.4.2008, which had argued the case for auctions or market-based pricing for the entire range of spectrum even after the 122 LoIs had been granted. His predecessor Ashok Jha has also made it to the list because of his multiple failed attempts to try and get spectrum pricing on to the Terms of Reference of the GoM during 2007.
There is also a demand to call B.K. Chaturvedi and K.M. Chandrasekhar, who served as Cabinet Secretaries in 2004-07 and 2007-11 respectively – the two periods during which most of the controversial decisions were made in the UPA government. The Opposition also wants present Attorney General G. Vahanvati, who was Solicitor General in 2008 and based on whose written approval on the file of 3.1.2008, Mr. Raja released a press statement granting 122 licences within a week.
Other names include T.K. Vishwanathan, Law Secretary in 2007, who on 1.11.2007, gave his opinion on file that 2G spectrum pricing and allocation should be sent to the GoM. This was supported by the then Law Minister, H. Bhardwaj, but shunned by Mr. Raja in a letter to Dr. Singh on 2.11.2007 as “out of context.” Also sought as witness is D.R. Meena, his replacement, as it is reported that the Law Secretary had tendered advice that the CAG, in his 2G report, had gone beyond his mandate.
Next is T.K.A. Nair, adviser in the PMO, who served as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister in 2008, and Pulok Chatterji, Principal Secretary to the PMO, then Joint Secretary, and between whom there were various file notings in 2007 and 2008, including the crucial note stating that the “PM wants this informally shared with DoT. Does not want a formal communication and wants the PM to be at an arm’s length.”
There is also a request for Sindhushree Khullar, who served as Additional Secretary in the Finance Ministry and did a detailed analysis of all newspaper reports and representations received in the Finance Ministry regarding spectrum pricing and auctions in 2007, prior to the 2G scam, and submitted the same to Finance Secretary Subbarao on 26.11.2007, which was seen by the then Finance Minister, Chidambaram, on 3.12.2007. Along with Mr. Subbarao, Mrs. Khullar has been known to have unsuccessfully opposed the DoT’s plan to allocate spectrum at the 2001 prices.
The list of serving officers sought as witness includes Rajan Katoch, Director of the Enforcement Directorate; CBI Director A.P. Singh; DoT Secretary Chandraskhekar; and Pratyush Sinha, who as CVC in 2009 directed the CBI to register an FIR in the 2G scam.
It is this FIR that led to the CBI investigation, at a very tardy pace till a PIL petition was filed and hearings began in the Supreme Court in October 2010, eventually resulting in the cancellation of licences. It was during this period that the Opposition demanded the formation of the JPC.