New Delhi: Corporate lobbyist Niira Radia gave evasive answers to Parliament’s public accounts committee (PAC) on questions relating to the allotment of second-generation (2G) spectrum, said Murli Manohar Joshi, chairman of the oversight body. Tata group chief Ratan Tata, on the other hand, was candid in his replies, Joshi said in a press briefing at Parliament on Monday.
The committee examining the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on alleged irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum questioned Radia and Tata independently for more than two-and-a-half hours in two sessions.
According to Joshi, the questions included the role played by both of them in the appointment of A. Raja as telecom minister, the Tata group’s interest in Unitech Wireless, one of the telcos allegedly favoured by Raja in 2008, and on details of the Radia tapes, leaked conversations between her and several high-profile persons, including Tata.
“Radia was evasive... Tata replied very openly. He (Tata) said he was a bit apprehensive at the beginning to appear before the PAC,” Joshi said. “He accepted that he wrote a letter to (Tamil Nadu chief minister) Karunanidhi through Niira Radia. The discussions were very progressive and constructive. It was more of a discussion and it went for almost three hours.”
The PAC chairman added: “Anybody can be candid but that does not necessarily mean that he said the truth. PAC will examine them.”
According to two individuals present during the PAC proceedings, who spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity, Tata defended the revenue-sharing model. He said that if the companies had paid a fee set by the government, then where was the question of any loss to the exchequer.
Under the revenue-sharing system, telecom operators pay a percentage of the adjusted gross revenue to the government for spectrum.
Tata referred to last year’s third-generation spectrum auction, which exceeded the government’s expectations, and asked whether any perceived undervaluation or overvaluation in the future would cause it to treat the result as presumptive loss or gain, according to the two persons cited above. A third person familiar with the development confirmed this.
A Tata group spokesperson declined to comment.
A spokesperson for Radia’s Vaishnavi Corporate Communications Pvt. Ltd said in a statement: “Ms Niira Radia appeared before the Hon’ble PAC. She extended her cooperation and offered clarification on all issues.”
While he informed that the Radia statement contradicted his own contention, Joshi said: “What else can she say? According to the PAC, her answers were not satisfactory.”
On the alleged spat between the PAC and the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) formed to look into the same issue, Joshi said: “Both of us (Joshi and P.C. Chacko, JPC chairman) met with the Lok Sabha speaker. We both apprised her and we are waiting for the speaker’s decision.”
Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari questioned the PAC widening the ambit of its investigation. Joshi is a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, while Chacko belongs to the ruling Congress party.
Tiwari questioned “whether the demand for a JPC was only actuated by political consideration or the only rationale for the demand of a JPC (was) that it would help them score political brownie points”.
Anuja contributed to this story.