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PMO dismisses report on PM looking the other way in 2G case
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, July 31
On the eve of Parliament’s monsoon session, the PMO today sought to clear the air around a controversial noting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s private secretary had made on the 2G issue on January 23, 2008, stating, “The PM wants this informally shared with the Department of Telecom (DoT). He doesn’t want a formal communication and wants the PMO to be at arm’s length.”

Insisting that the said noting was meant only to create a level-playing field between the existing and new telecom operators and did not deal with the grant of licences or Spectrum charges, the PMO trashed allegations that the PM looked the other way when things were going wrong — a charge Murli Manohar Joshi’s controversial Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) draft report on the 2G scam strongly makes. Though the report was junked following rebellion by Congress members of the last PAC, news is that Joshi might circulate it again to the new PAC members, having sought a legal opinion on the matter after the Lok Sabha Speaker returned the report some time back.

The PMO, in its first clarification on the matter, said a wrong impression was sought to be created as though the PM looked the other way after being informed of steps taken on the subject which he knew were inappropriate.

Elaborating on the context of the noting made on January 23, 2008, -- 13 days after former Telecom Minister A Raja had given away Universal Access Licences and Spectrum on 2001 prices to 122 telecom firms, including Swan and Unitech, the PMO said, “The note on which the said noting was recorded proposed to consider an approach and suggested fixing threshold level of Spectrum each operator must have to function with a minimum level of efficiency.”

In the same note, the PMO said the existing operators holding Spectrum above the threshold level be allowed time to reach full Spectrum utilisation failing which excess Spectrum may be withdrawn, and added that new operators be given spectrum only up to the threshold level on payment of the normal fees.

“Since there were conflicting interests between the existing and new operators at that time, the PM felt it inappropriate for the PMO to pronounce on the matter till the DoT and TRAI had considered the subject… it (the noting) was sent to DoT as an informal suggestion. It can in no way be construed to mean that the PM or his office looked the other way on matters relating to the grant of licence or Spectrum charges…”

Importantly, the PAC report, from which the BJP will borrow to attack the UPA in Parliament from tomorrow, traces the roots of the said noting to a letter Raja wrote to the PM on December 26, 2007, stating that he proposed to implement the decision (of grant of UAS and Spectrum) without further delay since the file for issue of the Letters of Intent had been approved by the PM on November 2, 2007.

The PAC’s documents “a strange sequence of events surrounding the processing of Raja’s letter. The processing began from December 31, 2007, and closed on January 31, 2008”. The letter and MEA note with a suggested course of action were submitted to the PM on January 7, 2008, -- 12 days later. On January 11, the PM’s private secretary conveyed his desire to account for developments concerning the issue of licences. Strangely, UAS licences had already been issued on January 10, 2007. The file was resubmitted to the PM on January 15 and received back with the PM’s private secretary making the controversial “arm’s length” noting.

The PAC records, “What concerns us is the fact that when Raja was in such a hurry to implement his decisions, there was no plausible reason to submit the file to the PM after 12 days. Also, there’s no logic in conveying the PM’s desire to take into account the licence issues on January 11, 2008, when the licences had already been issued a day before. And there’s no justification to share such important issues with the DoT in an informal manner. The PM’s desire to keep the PMO at arm’s length indirectly helped Raja to go ahead and execute his unfair designs.”





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