Contends his association with decision-making may motivate vested elements

The spectrum allocation issue continues to be a hot potato for the Centre with the newly-appointed chairman of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Telecom, Sharad Pawar, recusing himself on Monday from the high-powered body to stay out of controversy.

In a statement issued here, he said he had communicated his decision to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has “agreed” to relieve him from the responsibility.

Mr. Pawar was given the charge of the EGoM, after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who headed it, stepped down as he became the United Progressive Alliance’s Presidential candidate. Apparently, Mr. Pawar was entrusted with the responsibility as he is the senior-most Minister in the Cabinet.

The first inkling of his intention came when he postponed the debut meeting of the panel under him slated for Monday afternoon.

The panel was scheduled to meet on June 21 to decide on spectrum pricing and related issues but was deferred as Mr. Mukherjee ostensibly did not want to sit on judgement over such an important issue as he was entering the Presidential race.

“Attempts have been made in the past to unnecessarily drag me into the [2G spectrum] controversy,” Mr. Pawar said. “The allegations were false and motivated and I had refuted them strongly.”

He said he was not connected with any decision-making process in the allocation of 2G spectrum either in his personal capacity or official one. At this juncture, his association with the decision-making process (as chairman of the EGoM) may further motivate vested elements. “As such, I thought it would be appropriate for me to recuse myself from the position of the Chairman of the EGoM…”

In April last, Mr. Pawar quit as head of the EGoM on corruption after protests from social activist Anna Hazare. He now heads the EGoM on Pharmaceuticals and is member of several other Group of Ministers.

The EGoM is mandated to look into the entire gamut of issues, including the pricing and vacation of spectrum, the grant of licence and the allocation of spectrum in 2G band in 22 service areas. In February 2012, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 2G licences issued during the tenure of A. Raja and directed the Centre to complete the spectrum auction by August 31. At the height of the 2G controversy, the names of Mr. Pawar’s family members were sought to be linked to the DB Group-promoted Swan Telecom, a beneficiary of the spectrum allocated by Mr. Raja in 2008.

The Prime Minister will have to begin a new search for a suitable Minister to head the important panel.

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