‘Unwarranted inferences have been drawn from January 23, 2008 noting’

The Prime Minister's Office on Sunday denied reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh overlooked the matter related to issuance of 2G licences and spectrum pricing in 2008, and clarified that directions issued to the Department of Telecom (DoT) were “intended to create a level-playing field between the existing operators and new entrants [on the issue of spectrum allocation].”

Referring to a noting of January 23, 2008 of the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister that “PM wants this informally shared with the Department [of Telecom]. [He] does not want a formal communication and wants the PMO to be at arms length,” the PMO said: “It [the noting] did not deal with either issues relating to manner of grant of licence or charges for spectrum up to the threshold level” that each operator must have in order to function with a minimum level of efficiency.

“A number of unwarranted inferences have been drawn from this noting without considering the issue that was being examined and the context in which these directions were conveyed. In particular, an impression is sought to be created that the noting was in response to the Prime Minister being informed of the steps being taken which he knew were inappropriate but he looked the other way … The noting under question can in no way be construed to mean that the Prime Minister or his office looked the other way on matters relating to the grant of licence or spectrum charges,” the PMO said on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament.

Pointing out that the PMO had only suggested to the DoT the method of spectrum allocation to existing as well as new operators, the PMO further said: “It was well known at that time that there were conflicting interests between existing operators and new entrants. The Prime Minister felt that this matter required detailed examination and deliberation by the Department of Telecom in consultation with TRAI and others. He felt that, under the circumstances, it was not appropriate for the Prime Minister's Office to pronounce on the matter till the subject had been carefully considered by the administrative ministry [DoT] in consultation with TRAI and other concerned departments. Therefore, it was sent as an informal suggestion to the Department of Telecom for consideration.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister had cautioned the Opposition parties not to “pre-judge” the 2G scam as the matter was before the court. “It [the 2G licence and spectrum allocation case] should be left to be decided by the court and Parliament should not pre-judge the issue,” he told journalists after an all-party meeting convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.

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