Government defends Telecom Minister A Raja in court

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Government defends Telecom Minister A Raja in court

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Chennai:  Under growing pressure from the Opposition over the 2G scam, Telecom Minister A Raja has broken his silence. He said today that there is no quesiton of his resigning he had followed all the norms set by the cabinet in 1999 for the 2G auction.

Raja also hit out at the AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa her offer to prop up the government if it was willing to ditch the DMK and sack Raja.

"The CAG report is still pending in the Parliament," said Raja.

The remarks come hours before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from Seoul, straight into this raging political controversy. Sources say the PM would take the final call on Raja's exit.

The Telecom Minister has unified the Opposition whose chorus for his resignation rings out louder with each day in this Parliament session.

The government's auditor has held Raja directly responsible for costing the government Rs1.40 lakh crore through his controversial allocation of 2G spectrum in 2008.

But in the Supreme Court on Thursday, the government said that figure - provided by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a draft report - is "ill-advised." It also said that Raja followed the same policies on spectrum allocation as his predecessors, and that the low rates that he charged helped bring down call charges and increase tele-density.

By defending Raja vehemently in court, the government has gifted the Opposition the opportunity to launch a still more shrill attack in Parliament as it targets the government - especially the Congress - over pervasive corruption.  "He has to resign", said the Left's Sitaram Yechury, adding that his party will back the BJP's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the 2G scam.

Privately, sources in Raja's party, the DMK, admit that the odds of his survival are becoming slimmer. Party chief M Karunanidhi is expected to study the CAG report on Friday.

It is damning in its indictment of Raja who chose to skip an auction of 2G spectrum, awarding licenses instead to companies whose eligibility has been questioned, and who went on to resell their licenses virtually instantaneously for massive profits.

The CAG report states, "The Honourable Minister of Communication & IT, for no apparent logical or valid reasons, ignored the advice of Ministry of Law and Ministry of Finance, avoided the deliberations of the Telecom Commission to allocate 2G spectrum, a scarce finite national asset at less than its true value on flexible criteria and procedures adopted to benefit a few operators." (Read: CAG slams Raja for 'ignoring advice on 2G without logic')  

In its severe indictment, the CAG report says, the Department of Telecom did not follow its own guidelines on eligibility conditions.

    * It arbitrarily changed the cut-off date for applications after the original cut-off date.
    * It altered conditions of the First Come First Served procedure
    * It gave unfair advantage to certain companies over others.
    * It created an environment not "transparent and fair."
    * It issued new licences for 2G spectrum at 2001 prices in 2008.

The Prime Minister - currently in Seoul for the G-20 summit -  may, according to Congress sources, call Karunanidhi  upon his return to persuade him that it's untenable for Raja to continue in office. If Karunanidhi agrees, an announcement on Raja's exit will not be made before the wedding of Karunanidhi's grandson in Madurai on November 18.

On Thursday, the DMK spokesperson in Delhi said the party has no misgivings about keeping Raja in government.

"This case is pending in the Supreme Court. The CAG is only an audit forum. If we go by the CAG reports, no minister would be able to function," said DMK spokesperson, TKS Elangovan.

The Congress has hinted broadly that it cannot force the DMK to sack Raja because of the co-dependence that's embedded in any coalition. The DMK provides the government with the support of 18 MPs at the Centre. (Read: Can the PM sack DMK's A Raja?) 

"We have to respect coalition dharma," said Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natrajan on  Wednesday.

Aware that the issue of whether Raja stays or goes could split the UPA government, the Opposition is determined to up the ante. "The government has put in place an infrastructure of a cover-up. The government is a convict of its politics and it's making a choice between probity and survival," said the BJP's Arun Jaitley.

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT ARGUED IN RAJA'S DEFENSE IN COURT


In an affidavit to the Supreme Court today, the  Department of Telecommunications said:

  • That a loss of Rs 1,40,000 crores , as stated in the CAG report, "is misconceived"
  • The government complied with all terms & conditions in awarding licenses
  • That Raja allocated 2G spectrum at lower rates to increase tele-density , and provide lower rates for consumers
  • That 2G is a basic service; 3G is a value-added service and that's why it was auctioned earlier this year
  • The affidavit also says there is no need for the court to monitor the case


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