In the Supreme Court today, the Centre has made the startling revelation that it made an incorrect statement in Parliament that it had accepted in principle that most natural resources should be auctioned. The government says it correct its stand in the Rajya Sabha.
In February this year, the Supreme Court said that all natural resources must be auctioned, and not allocated on the basis of a first-come-first-serve policy. Its decision was part of a verdict that cancelled 122 telecom licenses that were sold instead of being given to the highest bidders in 2008 by then Telecom Minister A Raja. He is being tried for corruption, partly because he manipulated the rules to allegedly push some companies to the head of the line.
The government has asked the Supreme Court to clarify its stand on auctioning natural resources, partly because it alleges that the Supreme Court's verdict transgresses into the turf of policy-making, which is the prerogative of the executive. It has also said that auctioning of all mineral resources, for example, is not suitable as the nature of the resource and economic policy underlying
the effective utilisation of the resource has to be taken into account.
In that context, its statement to the Rajya Sabha could appear damaging. On August 9, Minister of State for Finance Namo Narayan Meena
said that the government had accepted the report of a committee that was set up in 2011 by the government to suggest how to ensure natural resources like coal mines are allocated to ensure competitive pricing and more transparency. The Ashok Chawla committee submitted its report to the government in May last year. The minister told the Rajya Sabha that 69 of the committee's recommendations had been accepted.
The government told the court today that's incorrect, and that the report is still being considered. It also made the point that the Chawla panel recognizes that competitive bidding or an auction is not possible in certain cases.