Saturday, April 20, 2013

PM innocent, but Vajpayee caused Rs. 42,080 crore loss: JPC report

NEW DELHI, April 20, 2013

The JPC investigating the Rs.1.76 lakh crore 2G scam has given a clean chit to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and disputed the CAG 2G loss figure, but at the same time accused former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee of being directly involved in decisions taken "in haste" and "despite objections from various quarters", which caused a loss of revenue "to the tune of Rs. 42,080.34 crores."

According to BJP leader Arun Jaitley, the attempt to drag in Mr. Vajpayee for causing a Rs. 43,000-crore revenue loss while overlooking the direct role of the current PM, borders on the absurd. Speaking to The Hindu, he said, "This notion is completely contrary to facts, common sense and economic principles. A properly recorded dissent will make history, while this report will soon be relegated to its rightful place — the dustbin."

The report's tirade against the BJP government and its ministers doesn't stop here. Devoting nearly 30 of the 75 pages to this in Chapter 10 "Observations and recommendations", it makes serious allegations of impropriety, undue haste and causing losses against ex-Telecom Minister Mr. Arun Shourie and ex-Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, both of the BJP.

Vajpayee attacked

In section 10.9–10.11, the report takes its investigation towards the NDA-led New Telecom Policy 99 and the migration package which moved the telecom industry from licence fee to revenue share regime while replacing the duopoly structure to open competition. This occurred when Mr. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of the NDA government from March 1998 till 2004 across two terms, including a 13-month government, which lasted till mid-1999.

Heaping criticism over the process, the report questions the timing of the migration package. It states, "The committee, however, take[s] note of the fact that at the time of approval and implementation of the migration package, a care taker government was in place following dissolution of Parliament."

The report states that both the President of India and later the Election Commission in August 1999, raised concerns over the undue haste in implementing the migration package and its timing. The report states that Mr. Vajpayee himself wrote in a letter to the President of India, "indicating that the policy decision taken in this regard was taken well before the dissolution of Parliament and justified its need for its urgent implantation, brooking no delay".

While the report admits that the Delhi High Court permitted the migration package, subject to its approval by the Council of Ministers and the 13th Lok Sabha, the report concludes, "it is evident that the government of the day acted in haste and it would have been wiser on the part of the government to hold back the Cabinet decision till the constitution of the new government". The draft report then goes on to calculate losses and revenue foregone to state that the NDA government had foregone revenue "To the tune of Rs. 42,080.34 crores in the course of offering the migration package of NTP 1999".

Shourie favoured corporates

The report then turns its guns on Arun Shourie regarding the implementation of the first-come-first-served policy and grant of new UAS licences in 2003 – two decisions that were made by Mr. Shourie as the then Telecom Minister. Slamming Mr Shourie's decision, the report says "The Committee are, however, concerned to point out that the decision to adopt first-come-first-served criteria for issue of UAS licences was taken in undue haste and was not based on comprehensive deliberation that merited issue in question." The committee also accuses the DoT and Mr. Shourie's Telecom Secretary, Vinod Vaish, for acting in an opaque manner, by holding them "at fault" for not publishing the adopted procedure which is against the "canon of fairness and transparency while implementing the UASL regime". Many of the decisions under attack in the report were approved by Mr. Shourie. The Hindu was unable to reach Mr. Shourie for his comments despite multiple attempts.

Jaswant Singh caused loss

The report does not spare a member of the JPC. Jaswant Singh who was the Finance Minister in the NDA government from April 2002 till May 2004, also stands accused as his Ministry, according to the report, working with the DoT, and contrary to the Cabinet decision of October 2003 that found no case to give a compensation package to cellular operators based on the perception that their finances were strained, reduced the licence fee. The report calculates the loss to the exchequer by such an action of the Finance Ministry at Rs. 968 crore for the first 4 years and Rs. 885 crore per annum thereafter.
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