Baijal, Behura to brief public accounts panel on 2G licences

Baijal, Behura to brief public accounts panel on 2G licences

New Delhi: Two former senior government officials, who were actively engaged in the telecom sector, have been called by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to brief it on 7 December on issues relating to the allocation of second-generation (2G) mobile phone spectrum and licences in 2008.

Meanwhile, the standoff between the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Opposition continues with the latter insisting that a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) investigate the allotment of licences.

Former chairperson of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Pradip Baijal and former secretary of the department of telecommunications (DoT) Siddharth Behura are expected to brief the committee on Tuesday on the “recent developments in the telecom sector, including allocation of 2G and 3G spectrum".

Behura was the telecom secretary who ultimately signed the controversial letters of intent (LoIs) that gave the new telecom firms their 2G licences and bundled spectrum on 8 January, 2008. The licences were doled out on 10-11 January. He retired as telecom secretary on 30 september 2009. Baijal was Trai chairman at the time of the drafting of the policy through which companies paid around 1,650 crore to enter the telecom sector.

Both Baijal and Behura could not be reached for comment despite several attempts to do so.

Baijal, after retirement from the government, has joined Noesis Consulting, a company co-promoted by Niira Radia, a lobbyist for the Tata group and Reliance Industries Ltd. He is now the chairman of Noesis Consulting.

Recordings of Radia’s phone conversations in 2009 with journalists, politicians, and other lobbyists that have been presented before the Supreme Court in a public interest litigation that claims there was corruption in the allotment of 2G licences in 2008 show her working to ensure that A. Raja retained his portfolio as telecom minister. Raja was also the telecom minister when the licences were allotted in 2008.

“We are meeting on the 7th... We have already been discussing the spectrum issue based on the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report and it is our duty in the PAC to continue doing that," said PAC member Munisamy Thambidurai, who is from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), an opposition party.

Opposition parties are demanding that a JPC be constituted to probe the 2G case even as the government has rejected the demand, resulting in Parliament failing to do any business since the winter session began on 9 November.

On Thursday, Parliament was adjourned for the 16th consecutive day following uproar over the issue.

The logjam in Parliament has been persisting despite an all-party meeting convened on Tuesday by Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar to broker peace between the government and the Opposition.

According to CAG, the exchequer suffered a notional loss of 1.76 trillion because of the allocation, rather than auction, of spectrum. Former telecom minister A. Raja was forced to resign earlier this month over the issue.

The government, meanwhile, has been insisting that the PAC should consider the report. While the PAC is constituted under the rules of procedure and conduct of business in the Lok Sabha, the JPC is an adhoc committee that is constituted when a motion to the effect is passed in Parliament. The PAC is also meant to examine the working of the ministries based on the findings of the CAG and the JPC is constituted only to investigate a particular issue and has a fixed term.

The PAC, headed by senior opposition leader Murli Manohar Joshi, held its first meet on the 2G spectrum case on 22 November to consider the CAG report.

Meanwhile, reiterating the party’s stand on the issue, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani on Thursday said nothing short of a JPC probe would be acceptable.

“The width and magnitude of the matter involved in the 2G spectrum allotment case are far beyond the scope of the Public Accounts Committee... The responsibility for the parliamentary stalemate rests entirely on the shoulders of the Government. Once the JPC is announced the NDA (National Democratic Alliance, the BJP-led coalition) favours the resumption of parliamentary business forthwith," Advani said.


The Court Files

Radia Tapes

Open, Outlook have to be heard, SC tells Tata

• Supreme Court tells Tata group chairman Ratan Tata that it needs to hear ‘Open’ and ‘Outlook’ magazines before passing any orders on his privacy petition; refuses to grant him any interim relief.

• Tata says his fundamental right of privacy is being violated; says he doesn’t want gag order on the press, but he wants the government to prevent such leaks in the future.

• The home ministry (which authorized the phone tapping), the income-tax department (which tapped Radia’s phone), CBI and the information and broadcasting ministry are given 10 days to respond. The magazines also have to respond. December 13 is the next date of hearing.

• Earlier, the court had ordered that all 5,851 original call recordings be kept with its registry, after giving CBI a copy for its investigation. The leaked conversations (over 100 calls) will continue to remain in the public domain.

2G Allocation Case

• Supreme Court asks former telecom minister A. Raja why he did not refer the 2G allotment issue to an empowered group of ministers as recommended by the law ministry. Court also asks why the finance secretary was kept out of a telecom commission meeting which decided on the 2G allotment.

• Raja says he kept the Prime Minister apprised of all that was happening.

• The court will monitor the 2G investigation, but no formal order passed yet. Bench and both sides are looking at options

• CBI says it has contacted Interpol for the foreign aspects of its investigation; says it is in touch with international financial institutions to trace the flow of money

Shauvik Ghosh contributed to this story.