New Delhi: Indicted in the draft JPC report, former Telecom Minister A Raja Monday hit back maintaining that "every major decision", including entry fee and non auction of spectrum, was taken after consulting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee.
"I took no unilateral decisions. Every major decision of mine was taken after consultation first with the DoT officers and thereafter with the Hon’ble PM, FM (Finance Minister P Chidambaram) and EAM (then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who was heading a GoM on vacation of spectrum).
"All issues including entry fee, non auction of spectrum, FCFS (first-come-first-served), processing of applications till 25.09.2007, etc., were personally discussed by me with the Hon’ble PM and the DoT proceeded only thereafter," he said.
In his over 100-page statement to JPC chief P C Chacko written after the draft report was circulated to panel members last week, Raja strongly rebutted the charge in the draft report that he had misled the Prime Minister when he took decisions.
He demanded recording of his statement and that of the Prime Minister before coming to conclusions.
"Since it has often been alleged that I 'misled' the honourable Prime Minister, I wish to deal with this issue here. I would first of all point out that this allegation has been made by the CBI, without even recording the statement of the PM.
"On what basis do they then say that he was misled? I do hope that the JPC will not commit the same blunder: if they wish to draw any conclusions on this issue, it is mandatory to record both my statement and the statement of the honourable Prime Minister," he said.
Raja also said that if the Prime Minister tells Parliament that there was no loss to the exchequer, then how the government can "watch silently" when the CBI prosecutes him for allegedly causing loss to the exchequer.
"It is truly unbelievable and this attitude of the government can perhaps only be explained as an exercise in blame-shifting or acting on political considerations," Raja said in a statement sent to Chacko today.
Raja said the "inter-institutional differences and aberrations" were responsible for "my personal liberty being sacrificed for fifteen months".
He said the situation could have been easily avoided had the government "backed its minister" and presented the case properly before the Supreme Court.
"I can only hope that if this kind of situation recurs, no other minister is made to suffer my fate. In conclusion, I would like to state that I stand by every decision that I took, and I am confident of emerging from this controversy with my name cleared by the judiciary and by history," he wrote in the concluding portion of his statement.
On the fixation of entry fee, Raja contended that the records showing the interaction between the DoT, Finance Ministry and PMO make it clear that there was unanimity on the point that start-up spectrum would not be auctioned and there would be no revision of entry fee for new operators.
He recalled that thereafter he had "numerous personal discussions" with the Finance Minister and the PM in December 2007 and the first week of January 2008 in Cabinet meetings and otherwise, where they were in agreement with the proposed course of action of the DoT.
"That is why the Finance Ministry did not raise any further issues regarding entry fee or spectrum charges," he said.
Raja said later in his personal meetings with the Finance Minister and the two together conveyed to the PM in July, 2008 that start up spectrum would not be charged and spectrum above start up would be charged.
"This is also the position conveyed to the Hon’ble PM by me in numerous meetings and discussions and agreed to by him. He has been kind enough to defend this position even in Parliament," he said.
On the role of the Prime Minister in the controversial first-come-first-served policy, Raja claimed that the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had prepared his own note based on the note by then Solicitor General G E Vahanvati and forwarded both to the Prime Minister.
He said he had also sent his letter to Prime Minister based on the discussions with Mukherjee and Vahanvati covering issues like subscriber base criteria for allotment of additional spectrum, use of dual technology and issue of new licences.
"In my second letter to the Hon’ble PM, I explained why spectrum auction was contrary to TRAI recommendations, unfair to new applicants and arbitrary because it violated the principle of level playing field. I assured him that no deviation or departure in the rules was being contemplated and that full transparency was being maintained.
"Thus, I reiterate my position that there was no deviation in the procedure and complete transparency was maintained. If at all, only the decision to issue letters of intent (LOIs) simultaneously can be regarded as a new procedure, but even for this there was precedent and the need for simultaneous issuance was properly documented and transparently disclosed to the Hon’ble PM," he said.
He said all these matters were discussed by him "personally" with the PM.
"The PMO files contain detailed notes on the procedure followed by the DoT...The Hon’ble PM was fully aware of all these matters. The DoT issued LOIs only after I obtained the Hon’ble PM's concurrence when I met him in January 2008. Similarly, spectrum was allocated only after I had the concurrence of the Hon’ble PM and Finance Minister," he contended.
He also said the Prime Minister continued him as the Telecom Minister after the 2009 elections. "Surely, if he felt that I had misled him or offended him in any manner, my reappointment would not have happened," he said.
Raja said that after the intervention by the Supreme Court, cancellation of licenses and the attempted auction of spectrum, the telecom wheel has turned a full circle.
"There are no new operators and no one is keen to enter the business. Tariff increases have already been announced and are likely to be announced again. The telecom success story is finished.
"The so-called theory of conspiracy between me and some private operators has fallen flat after the combined investigation of CBI, ED and Income Tax Departments could not identify a single rupee of any bribe with me or even my extended family. Where has this left the country"? he quipped.
He said different options were available and the DoT chose a particular option.
Raja said while the Planning Commission says telecom should not be seen as a source of revenue, CAG is concerned only with maximising revenue.
"These sort of institutional differences should be left to be determined by the executive which is of course answerable to Parliament. Instead, CBI, the Supreme Court and various other bodies started imposing their opinions, leading to this current situation," he said.