Backing the Union government, former cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar argued before the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Thursday that there was no loss to the exchequer in the allocation of 2G telecom spectrum in 2008. He, however, confirmed having sought an increase in the licence fee.
Called to testify before the probe into the allocation under former telecom minister A Raja, he said he had written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 26, 2007, saying the licence fee should be raised so that at least Rs 35,000 crore could be got, because of inflation and rising teledensity. However, he stressed, this was just one of the options before the government, as revenue maximisation was not the only consideration. Under the first come, first served spectrum allocation policy followed in 2008, a pan-India licence cost Rs 1,658 crore to an operator, and the government was able to raise only around Rs 10,000 crore in all.
“Chandrasekhar has said there was no loss to the exchequer according to the policy of the government. There was no abandonment of revenue and government policy was for the greater common good and teledensity. The CAG (comptroller and auditor general) has talked about a loss to the exchequer but revenue was not the only consideration before the government,” said P C Chacko, chairman of the JPC, after the meeting.
In his deposition, Chandrasekhar also defended Finance Minister P Chidambaram on the controversial note of March 25, 2011. It had indicted Chidambaram for not doing enough to stop the controversial allocation. The note, said Chandrasekhar, was prepared by the finance ministry and he had not seen it. “It was prepared to have greater clarity, as different ministries were involved and many people were talking in different committees. The note was supposed to put things in chronological order and assumptions should have been avoided,” Chandrasekhar told the panel.
The note had said Chidambaram, when he was the FM, should have insisted on an auction of the spectrum.
Chandrasekhar also denied that D S Mathur, former secretary, department of telecommunications (DoT), had conveyed his opposition to the first-cum-first-served policy and that it was ever reported to him. The former cabinet secretary said he’d checked all the monthly reports sent by the ministry but it was not mentioned.
Meanwhile, the political battle between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress members continued in the JPC. All six members of the Opposition party boycotted the meeting. Of the 30 members in the JPC, only 12 attended the meeting.
Chacko had written to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to seek her view on calling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram to testify, a demand from opposition members on the JPC. The Speaker had replied that there was no rule or precedent to call ministers as witnesses and sending a reference was premature because the committee had not taken a decision. Chacko said the PM had been willing to appear before the Public Accounts Committee but hadn’t been called.
Members of the BJP have decided to boycott the JPC proceedings till the PM and Chidambaram are called to testify.