The Joint Parliamentary Committee report on the 2G scam has relied on the selective quotation of evidence, often citing the same person’s testimony or decision to both justify the UPA government’s policies and damn those pursued by the former BJP-led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The report quotes former Cabinet Secretary, K M Chandrashekhar as having testified that since there was no policy relating to charging a higher entry fee for spectrum, no case can be made out for“abandonment of revenue”. However, it ignores the fact that Mr. Chandrashekhar, who had appeared before the JPC in October 2012, had disclosed that he, on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request, had painstakingly calculated an entry fee of Rs. 35,000 crore in a note of November 2007 – two months before the 2G scam. Mr. Chandrashekhar had also said he never heard back from the PM.
Similarly, it selectively cites former Finance Secretary and current RBI Governor, Dr. Subbarao to attack the CAG’s loss estimates by quoting from his statement in the JPC: “Increase teledensity and maximise welfare, then I believe that you cannot attribute financial loss to that” from his statements in the JPC. In so doing, it fails to reconcile or even mention that Dr. Subbarao had, on November 22, 2007, written to the then DoT Secretary, questioning the 2G pricing: “It is not clear how the rate of Rs.1600 crores determined as far back as 2001, has been applied for a license given in 2007, without any indexation let alone current evaluation”. The report gives the impression that Dr Subbarao was against increasing the price of spectrum, which is contradicted by his letter and multiple file notings in the run up to the 2G scam.
The JPC report heaps severe criticism on former TRAI Chairman, Pradip Baijal, on page 25 of its report in an attempt to attack the NDA government. It calls Baijal’s actions “a matter of concern” and one which will “certainly set an unhealthy precedent”. However, when justifying the UPA’s decision to not hold auctions or revise entry fee, the report revises its view and quotes Mr Baijal’s statement in the JPC on page 62, “Growth of teledensity revolves around access networks and the need to make available low cost access.”
Similarly, the report devotes nearly five pages to trashing the license fee migration package of 1999, and how the shift to revenue sharing caused a massive loss of Rs. 42,080 crore to the exchequer based on the opinion given by the then Attorney General, Mr. Soli Sorabjee. However, exactly 50 pages later, while justifying the UPA’s decision to give away spectrum in 2008 at 2001 prices, it cites the same opinion 1999 opinion in its favor by arguing,“The opinion given by then Attorney General of India on 16 June 1999 in the context of the migration package, holds equally good in the context of allocation of spectrum in 2008 at 2001 prices; if there is some loss of revenue it is well settled that public revenue is not synonymous with public interest.”It is unclear how Mr Sorabjee could have been wrong in 1999 but right in 2013.
JPC’s loss or UPA’s gain
Though instances of contradictions and cherry-picking abound, the one that stands out relates to the allegations against Mr Vajpayee and the NDA government for causing a loss “to the tune of Rs. 42,080.34 crores in the course of offering migration package vide NTP 99.”
Ironically, the UPA government itself, in October 2008 when under fire for the losses highlighted in the media on account of the Swan and Unitech equity sale in 2008, had not only publicly highlighted the virtues of the migration package which introduced the revenue share regime, but had proudly paraded the massive gains in revenues to the government since 1999.
A UPA press release of November 7, 2008, argued, “Since the introduction of revenue share regime in 1999, the government has received more than Rs. 50,000 crores on account of only license fee. In addition to above, the government has received approx. 9000 crores on account of spectrum charges and approx. Rs.19,500 crores on account of entry fee”. In effect, the press release shows that in sharp contrast to the JPC’s claim of a Rs. 42,080.34 crore loss caused by the NDA, the government during UPA-1 claimed an upsurge in revenues of nearly 86% to the tune of Rs. 78,500 crore till November 2008.