It says ‘seen' does not mean mere sight of the document
The Union Law Ministry has expressed the view that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee could have ‘given a direction' on the controversial March 25 note sent by his Ministry to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on issues related to 2G spectrum.
The note marked as ‘seen' by Mr. Mukherjee said that the then Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, could have insisted on auctioning the 2G spectrum licences.
The note, released by the PMO in September last following a RTI petition, triggered a political storm within the United Progressive Alliance government. The crisis was resolved after Mr. Mukherjee clarified at a joint media appearance with Mr. Chidambaram that though he had seen the note, he did not concur with the inference in that Mr. Chidambaram could have insisted on auctioning.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), which is mandated to examine the telecom and 2G spectrum policies from 1998 to 2009, had sought an opinion of the Law Ministry on the connotation of the phrase ‘seen' on an official noting.
The Ministry felt that ‘seen' does not mean mere sight of the document. JPC Chairman P.C. Chacko said at a news conference after the deliberations of the committee that as per the Law Ministry, ‘seen' implied that the information in the note was in the knowledge of the person seen (in this case Mr. Mukherjee) and the person was in a position to give a direction of any aspect of the information.
The JPC came into the picture on the note after its members took serious exception to the Finance Ministry not furnishing a copy of the note as part of the documentation it has given on the 2G related issues.
Union Finance Secretary R.S. Gujral and Department of Economic Affairs Secretary R. Gopalan faced intense questioning from the JPC members as to why the Ministry kept the committee in the dark on the note.
Despite marathon sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, the questioning of the officials remained inconclusive. While the issue of failure of the Ministry to give a copy of the note is as good as settled with Mr. Gopalan owning responsibility for the lapse, other important and politically sensitive issues cropped up in the course of the questioning.
For instance, Mr. Gopalan was confronted with the Law Ministry opinion and asked to explain as to what exactly did the Ministry meant by saying Mr. Mukherjee had ‘seen' the note. He maintained that that seeing a file did not mean approving it. According to him, while the original proposal was to put up the note for approval of Mr. Mukherjee, later it was decided to put it for perusal as there was no policy decision in it.
Mr. Gopalan also asserted that the position of the Finance Ministry on auctioning was unambiguous and it insisted throughout that it should be auctioned. Asked as to why the Ministry allowed the DoT to get away by awarding the licences at prices fixed in 2001, the official said his Ministry had raised objections several times in writing.
Interestingly, Mr. Gopalan informed the JPC that the note compiled by the Department of Economic Affairs was a fact sheet on the basis of inputs from various Ministries and Departments and there was no proposal to share it with the PMO. The note was sent to the PMO after a Joint Secretary in the PMO telephonically sought it.