Even as the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) looking into the 2G scam battled over calling P Chidambaram to depose and the BJP again stayed away in protest, the cabinet secretary at the time of scam, KM Chandrasekhar, made some critical revelations today.
Mr Chandrashekhar said that he had written to the Prime Minister that the entry fee for players wanting 2G telecom licences could be increased to up to Rs. 36,000 crore, from the existing Rs. 1,651 crore. He had based the increase on growth in market size as well as teledensity. In his letter dated November 26, 2007, the former cabinet secretary had recommended to the PM that revenues could be increased. But he also added in the letter that this had to be a policy decision.
Interestingly, he also told JPC that the controversial note, suggesting that the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram could have prevented the 2G scam by insisting on an auction, was not sent past him.
The note from the Finance Ministry in March 2011 forwarded to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), suggests that Mr Chidambaram should have insisted on an auction. The 14-page document also says that the guidelines of telecom policy provided the government with a loophole. The then Telecom Minister A Raja signed off on deals that provided licences for Rs. 1,600 crores each to companies that he was allegedly colluding with. The note that criticises Mr Chidambaram was "seen by" the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee which translates into his endorsement of its contents.
PC Chacko, who is the chairman of the JPC, told NDTV that the letter written by Mr Chandrashekhar was just one of the many reports on 2G spectrum allocation that was sent to the PMO. He further added that the entry fee for spectrum could not be decided by the Prime Minister. "The Cabinet Secretary had reported at that point of time - when various aspects were being considered by the PMO, Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Finance Ministry - that if 2001 prices are revised, then what will be the implication...It wasn't the PM's responsibility to revise the entry fee, or the spectrum price or charge...he has to refer it to the concerned minister. Telecom Minister has to go through the TRAI recommendation...which had clearly said then that prices needn't be revised," Mr Chacko said.
Mr Chandrashekhar also told the JPC that despite his predecessor asking the telecom secretary and the economic affairs secretary to keep the cabinet secretary apprised about spectrum allocation, this was not done during his tenure.
The controversial note had a kicked up a political storm, because it was looking like the Finance Ministry, under Pranab Mukherjee, was trying to blame Mr Chidambaram, who was the Finance Minister when the 2G scam happened. The two ministers had to appear in public and explain the situation in a show of unity after it looked like the government was split into two over this controversy. A junior bureaucrat was blamed for inserting the reference to Mr Chidambaram.