New Delhi: The government defied mounting pressure from the Opposition on Thursday to defend telecom minister A. Raja—who is facing corruption charges over allocation of telecom spectrum—and filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court (SC) denying that the allocation had caused a loss to the exchequer.
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The affidavit was filed by the telecommunications ministry that Raja heads and, interestingly, counters points raised in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General that is yet to be placed before Parliament.
After Parliament was adjourned for the second day in succession over demands of Raja’s ouster, the issue appeared to be driving a wedge between the Congress party, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and one of its partners in the coalition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Tamil Nadu party to which Raja belongs.
Congress leaders admitted the issue could snowball into a serious one for the alliance.
Raja is alleged to have facilitated the issue of second-generation (2G) telecom licences in January 2008 on the same terms at which the licences had been issued in 2001, causing a loss to the exchequer. He is also accused of arbitrarily advancing the deadline for licence applications, helping some of the companies that eventually bagged the licences. The licences also came with the spectrum needed to offer mobile services.
The matter is a subject of a case in the Supreme Court and is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the income-tax department and the Enforcement Directorate.
The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe, but minutes after both houses of Parliament were adjourned on Thursday without transacting any business, home minister P. Chidambaram and parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal ruled out such an inquiry.
They said further action would be taken after Parliament discusses the CAG report, which has been submitted to the finance ministry.
“The CAG has already given its report. The PAC (public accounts committee), which is a mini-JPC, will go into the issue and report to Parliament. It will again be debated. Why is there a demand for JPC?” Chidambaram asked reporters outside Parliament.
The CAG report has put the estimated loss to the exchequer caused by the allegedly fraudulent allocation at Rs1.76 trillion.
In its affidavit filed in the apex court, the DoT (department of telecommunications) says the spectrum allocation of 2008 should not be compared with this year’s allocation of third-generation (3G) telecom spectrum. The 2G allocation was in line with the policy of that time, and did not lead to any loss, it added.
The affidavit also attempts to address the allegation that Raja proceeded with the spectrum auction in defiance of the Prime Minister and the finance minister, the law ministry and senior government officials.
Despite the brave public face put up by UPA ministers, three Congress leaders said the issue has affected the relationship between their party and the DMK. All three didn’t want to be identified.
One of them said the Congress had approached DMK president and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi asking for Raja’s resignation as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen on it.
The DMK continues to back Raja. “Why should he resign?” asked DMK spokesperson and Lok Sabha member T.K.S. Elangovan. He added that all parties should wait for CBI to file its report. In October, CBI told the Supreme Court that its investigation into the alleged 2G scam would be completed in six months.
Another DMK leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity, that the party reiterated its stand in a meeting on Thursday between Karunanidhi’s daughter M. Kanimozhi and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, of the Congress. A person familiar with the matter said the DMK would take a final decision on Raja after 18 November, without elaborating. This person too did not want to be identified.
A Congress leader from Tamil Nadu, who also did not want to be identified, said the party was considering an alliance with DMK’s rival All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) ahead of the assembly polls.
DMK has three cabinet ministers, including Raja, and its 18 members support the Congress-led UPA government in the Lok Sabha. The party, in turn, depends on Congress’ outside support for a majority in the state assembly.
In Chennai, AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa asked the Prime Minister to dismiss Raja and promised “unconditional” support of 18 Lok Sabha members, nine from her party and nine more from “like-minded parties”, if the DMK withdrew support to the Central government.
But Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said: “At the moment, it is very clear that DMK is our very important alliance partner.”
Shauvik Ghosh of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.