The Joint Parliamentary Committee, going into the 2G spectrum allocation scam, was on Tuesday forced to withdraw a list of witnesses which, to the shock of its members, included the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the former Defence Minister, George Fernandes, while omitting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Both Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Fernandes face serious health issues and are confined to their homes.
The comprehensive list was officially withdrawn after this glaring insensitivity and the absence of Dr. Singh’s name were pointed out. The list included Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, and the Telecom Ministers in the NDA regime, Jagmohan, Arun Shourie and Sushma Swaraj.
Informed sources said JPC Chairman P.C. Chacko agreed that not having Dr. Singh’s name on the list was an omission, and unlike as at the previous meetings, the Congress MPs did not protest this.
The last meeting, held on June 19, saw stormy disagreement among members of the Congress, the Left and the BJP on the issue of summoning the present political leadership as witnesses.
The Congress members’ earlier stand that the JPC had sufficient material to start writing its report was somewhat diluted at Tuesday’s meeting. The JPC has met 40 times and interviewed fewer than 20 witnesses since it was constituted in February 2011.
A fresh list, incorporating the suggestions of all the members, will now be compiled. Mr. Chacko will discuss this master list with individual members and then with the committee at the next meeting, scheduled for July 10.
The JPC questioned Revenue Secretary R.S. Gujral, Additional Secretary Shashi Shekhar, and Joint Secretary M.L. Meena, all from the Finance Ministry. Furthermore, detailed discussions were held with the Director of the Enforcement Directorate, Rajan Katoch, and accompanying officials.
Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI asked the ED team pointed questions, especially on DB Realty. The officials acknowledged that there was evidence of the company having camouflaged its foreign investment as domestic investment and operated beyond the 49 per cent cap on the foreign direct investment under the automatic route. The progress of the case relating to the alleged money-laundering involving Maxis Communication and alleged illegal gratification of Rs. 550 crore to the former Telecom Minister, Dayanidhi Maran, was also discussed.
The ED said 23 overseas source inquiries had been conducted through diplomatic channels. Additionally, six letters of request had been sent to authorities in the U.K., the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Cyprus, Singapore and the U.S. CBI and ED teams had visited several of these locations.
ED reveals probe details
According to the ED, its investigations resulted in the issue of nine show cause notices under the Foreign Exchange Management Act for contraventions. The total amount involved so far is Rs.7,928.91 crore. Identification and attachment of property worth Rs. 233.55 crore, in connection with illegal gratification of Rs. 200 crore, had also been completed.
Mr. Dasgupta asked the ED to spell out the reasons for the slow progress in its investigations and whether this would make it difficult to track down illegal funds. Admitting that the real work started only after the Supreme Court’s supervision of the investigation, ED officials committed themselves to showing results without setting any deadline.
Both the ED and the CBI are now working under the supervision of the Supreme Court, and their answers reveal that the JPC’s results themselves, in terms of its report, really rests upon the final list of witnesses it will summons.
Two things stand out in the finalisation of the list. First, almost all telecom decisions since 1999 have been taken at the level of the Prime Minister and his Ministers, especially in the case of large revenue. Second, any report that lists the workings of the government during a certain period without obtaining firsthand comments and evidence from those whose work and tenure will be commented upon will suffer serious credibility issues since it violates the most basic principles of natural justice.
The BJP’s willingness to have any or all of its Ministers in the NDA regime questioned by the JPC has also made it difficult for other members to seek the omission of UPA Ministers.
While consensus on the final list may not emerge by the next meeting, given the extreme media and public scrutiny of the working of the JPC, the committee will find itself increasingly hard-pressed to ride rough shod over its members suggesting legitimate names.