Will Manmohan distance himself from PMO officials as he did from Raja?

New evidence shows that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, far from being “at arm’s length” from ex-Telecom Minister A. Raja’s controversial 2G decisions, had directed officials in the PMO to “examine urgently” Mr. Raja’s letters outlining his intended decisions which eventually led to the 2G scam on January 10, 2008. Investigation now reveals that senior PMO officials had supported several of Mr. Raja’s acts on file, well before the 2G scam.

These very same 2G decisions of 2008 were later, in February 2012, declared by the Supreme Court to be “wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest apart from being violative of the doctrine of equality.” Mr. Raja, his senior officers and industrialists were accused by the CBI of entering into a criminal conspiracy to cheat the exchequer of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore of revenue, as per the CAG’s estimates.

Examine urgently: PM

A set of hitherto unseen documents emerging from PMO File No 180/31/C/26/OS.ESI, Vol. IV, in the possession of The Hindu, shows that the Prime Minister, after receiving written intimations from Mr. Raja on December 26 about his plans to manipulate the first-come-first-served (FCFS) policy, directed on December 29, 2007 that the letter be “examined urgently.” Based on the PM’s directions, the then Principal Secretary, PMO, T.K.A. Nair and Secretary, PMO, Pulok Chatterji analysed Mr. Raja’s letter, discussed the implications and listed suggestions — while agreeing in writing with at least four of his actions ahead of the 2G scam.

The new set of documents is at variance with the popular belief that Dr. Singh made weak attempts to caution Mr. Raja against his multiple illegal moves, but eventually failed to restrain him. File notings demonstrate not just agreement with Mr. Raja’s written intimations — but even a discussion on these specifications, between Mr. Chatterji and “the new Secretary DoT,” Siddharth Behura — nearly a week before the 2G scam.

On the Prime Minister’s directions, a detailed analysis on 2G was placed on file along with Mr. Raja’s six-page letter to the PM and a “Top Secret” note by the then External Affairs Minister (EAM) and Chairman of the GoM on Spectrum, Pranab Mukherjee, both coincidentally dated December 26, 2007. Mr. Chatterji, then a senior official in the PMO, on December 31, 2007, wrote on page 1/N of the file, in a “Confidential/Internal” note: “As desired by Pr. Secy., I have gone through the note of the EAM and the letter of Minister C&IT and an earlier note on the telecom issues. All these documents are placed below. I have prepared a comparative chart at F/X that gives various recommendations on each issue. The last col. gives certain suggestions. Pr. Secretary may like to see this.”

The PMO’s four-page “comparative chart,” which specifically deals with “Issues of new licenses,” establishes that the PMO was in agreement with the decisions for which Mr. Raja stands accused in the CBI charge sheet of April 2, 2011, the CAG report of November 16, 2010, and the Supreme Court judgment of February 2, 2012, which cancelled 122 licences.

PMO agreed with Raja

The PMO was in agreement that startup spectrum — called “threshold” in the file — be allocated at “normal” rates. This implies no revision in entry fee, a crime for which the CBI charge sheet accuses Mr. Raja. A related note by Mr. Chatterji, after his discussion with Mr. Nair, goes on to recommend that auctions only be held beyond “threshold” (startup) level. This supports Mr. Raja’s refusal to revise the entry fee or resort to auctions in his letters to the Prime Minister of November 2 and December 26, 2007, which were written in response to the PM’s letter of November 2, 2007.

Thirdly, the file notings endorse Mr. Raja’s proposition that the FCFS policy should continue, despite acknowledging on file that over 570 applications were pending, with a caveated admission by Mr. Chatterji on page 3/N Section 14, that, “Ideally, in a situation where spectrum is scarce, it should be auctioned.”

Finally, the documents not only accept Mr. Raja’s manipulation of the FCFS definition which changed the priority from “date of application” to time of compliance with the Letter of Intent (LoI) — “payment of fee, etc” — but document this illegal change in Column 6 of the “comparative chart” as a 3-stage process, mirroring the 3-stage process outlined in Mr. Raja’s last letter to the Prime Minister of December 26, 2007. The Supreme Court, the CAG and the CBI have held this to be a violation of the then existing FCFS process.

The PMO files do not comment on the illegal advancement of cutoff date though Mr. Raja had specifically informed the Prime Minister about the advancement in his earlier letter D.O. No.20-100/2007-AS.1 of November 2, 2007. At the time of our going to press, the PMO had not responded to a detailed set of questions emailed by The Hindu.

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