This is a test case of combination of bizaire style of governance in India as also the much talked about muscle-flexing by bureaucracy.
A former Telecom Secretary Mr A V Gokak “over ruled” the then Prime Minister Mr I K Gujral in 1997 and referred the study on licensee fees to other fora instead of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)as directed by Gujral.
“This was a major lacuna… This should not have happened and was unexpected. Prime Minister is the highest authority and any order from him should have been implemented in letter and spirit,” the JPC chairman and senior Congress MP Mr P C Chako told reporters here today.
Briefing journalists about the 12th sitting of the all-party panel examining the high-profile 2G spectrum scam, Mr Chako said on November 1, 1997, Mr Gujral had directed that TRAI should study on various pros and cons about the fees “not recovered” from the licensees.
“Instead of giving the assignment to TRAI, the secretary telecom (Mr Gakok) felt the necessity to assign the task to Bureau of Industrial Costs and Pricing (BICP), which was also later outsourced to ICICI Bank,” Mr Chako said.
To a question, Mr Chako said even the then Telecom minister Mr Beni Prasad Verma, the present Steel minister, “was not consulted”.
To a question, Mr Chako said, the former secretary, who retired 12 years back, explained to the panel that he “felt the necessity to assign the task to BICP as he thought TRAI would take more time to make the study and submit its report”.
“This reply is not satisfactory to the JPC,” Mr Chako said adding Mr Gakok, who appeared before the panel for 2 and half hours, will again appear tomorrow. “Six more members of JPC are to question him”.
Mr Chako said that ironically the report from BICP and ICICI later came only 11 months after the assignment was given and incidentally after Mr Gakok had retired.
Mr Gakok’s stint as telecom secretary covers the duration between 1996 and 1998. Among other things, he was also questioned by the committee on how the DoPT has failed to collect “outstanding license fees” to the tune of Rs 3779.45 crore including the amount of Rs 685 crore plus Rs 50.76 crore and another amount of Rs 33 crore as were also reflected in the CAG report No. 6 of 1998.
“Mr Gakok’s explanation to the committee was that the industry was at the nascent stage and things were just settling down,” Mr Chako said.
He explained that one reason for failure to recover the dues was that most of the 34 licensees had failed to open “third party account” as was mandated as one of the pre-conditions. “In fact, the failure to open such an account meant the licenses should or could have been cancelled,” he said.
Mr Chako maintained that the JPC was “not at all satisfied” with the former secretary’s explanations.
Answering questions, Mr Chako threw broad hint that all former telecom ministers could be summoned before the JPC but indicated that Mr Beni Prasad Verma and Mr Buta Singh could be exempted as nothing much apparently happened during their tenure. Other names as former telecom ministers who could be summoned “only after concensus” include Ms Sushma Swaraj, Mr Jagmohan, Late Pramod Mahajan, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Arun Shourie. “Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee held the portfolio for sometime, but no member has raised the demand of summoning any former prime minister,” he added.
With the appointment of three of its Congress members— Mr Kishore Chandra Deo, Ms Jayanthi Natarajan and Mr Paban Singh Ghatowar—as ministers, the Congress has fallen into minority in the JPC, sources say adding the vacant slot can be filled up only after a resolution of the both houses of Parliament.
BJP has already charged the Congress of delaying the process. Mr Chako today said the JPC would be able to finalize report only by the end of winter session and not by August end as was initially assigned.
Meanwhile, BJ mounted pressure on government today by demanding that Home Minister Chidambaram should be summoned by JPC.
“I have received a letter of request from Mr Sinha on that,” the JPC chairman Mr P C Chako confirmed but hastened to add that the matter was under his examination.
Mr Sinha, when contacted said Mr Chidambaram “should come before the JPC as a former finance minister”.
Asked whether in his letter to the JPC chairman, he has also referred to Mr A Raja’s submission in the court during last two hearings wherein he has named the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Chidambaram, the BJP leader said, “…. but why make a distinction on whether he (Chidambaram) should be questioned on what Raja has said in court or otherwise”.
Mr Chako later said Mr Sinha’s letter was under his consideration but in the same breath, he said, “former ministers and politicians can be summoned only in the last leg… after we finish up with former secretaries and AGs and others”.
The JPC chairman Mr Chako, however, said, the committee would like to question Mr Raja at the earliest as the members expected him to throw more lights into the matters. “We are not with any closed mind for summoning others,” Mr Chako added.
The battle of one-up-manship between Congress and BJP is really picking up in the case.
In May, earlier this year, Mr Sinha, who was heading the Group of Ministers on Telecom policy during NDA regime, volunteered to depose before JPC.
Apparently, BJP is opposed to Mr Chako’s “prematured and prejudicial media briefings”, sources said and a few BJP leaders are also toying with the idea of having parallel briefings. Even during the meeting in the past, opposition members maintained that Congress members in JPC were coming prepared and briefed by the government and akey senior minister. The Home Minister Mr Chidambaram has already demanded the resignation of BJP member Mr Yashwant Sinha from the JPC.