Sunday, November 28, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
ARUN SHOURIE BJP leader and former telecom minister
Source: Indian Express
In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24x7 with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Arun Shourie, telecom minister in the NDA government, takes on A Raja for saying he was only following the first-come-first-served policy of granting licences that was laid down by his predecessors ALL OF us wish that the Prime Minister would exercise his authority more.
Otherwise what is happening is what happened in Raja's case, that under the umbrella of the Prime Minister's good name, all this dacoity was going on. It is not a service to the country for a good person to be merely a good person in his own right
My guest this week is somebody who I say with great pride that I followed in the footsteps of, Mr Arun Shourie. But it seems that you are in tricky company because A Raja also says that he followed in your footsteps as telecom minister.
This kind of nonsense that (Raja) was peddling--that he was only continuing the principles and procedures that we had laid down-this has certainly not washed with the Prime Minister.
Or with the CBI or CAG.
It is also very curious that on the one hand you force him to resign, saying he has done wrong. On the other, you say he is only following procedures. But I have faith that if the media is strong, the courts are strong, one way or the other the truth will come out, as it has come out in this case.
What is the truth in this case?
Was he following in your footsteps or not? And what were your footsteps?
I will give you one instance. He says I followed the first-come-firstserved procedure and he did the same thing and the media is saying the same thing. The fact of the matter is that he did not follow the first-come-first-served method. All this controversy relates to Sep tember-October 2007. In August 2007, there were 167 applications lying in the telecom department and he was not allowing them to be processed, saying the spectrum is short. And then suddenly, he contacts the real estate companies that he was dealing with while he was in the environment ministry (he was environment minister in UPA-I) and tells them, `We are opening shop here. You come and take licences.' They apply. Suddenly he now has spectrum. He announces he will give licence on first-come-first-served basis by the date and time of application re ceived--by October 1, 2007. Ap plications come. Suddenly he says no. I will have the cut-off date not on October 1 but September 25. So everybody who applies in be tween is cut out, without any rea son, without any scrutiny. This is what (D S) Mathur, the secretary, objected to. Then he suddenly changed the basis of first-come first-served. First it was time and date of application. Then he says the time and date at which the con ditions specified in the letter of intent will be fulfilled. This is changed, and one of the condi tions is, as the CAG says, in 41 minutes, bring banker's drafts. It's a press note issued at 2.45 p.m. that by 3.30 p.m., bring a banker's draft of Rs 1,650 crore.
I must say Indian banking system has become very efficient! Electronic. Not only that. It so happens that some firms already have the banker's drafts precisely for that time and it is dated well before the change of conditions that was announced. And the representatives of two of the firms are sitting in the office of Raja's personal assistant. They are not at the central registry where these are to be given. So, suddenly these licences are given. Even this change is not notified till January 2008. All this is happening in October. Then there are conditions which are laid down. Now the CAG has found that of the 122 licences that were given, in the case of 85 licences, those companies did not fulfill the conditions that had been laid down--that is first come, first served. Not only that, it then happened that (Raja) still did not get the type of spectrum allocated to Swan, which he wanted to do, which is one of the favoured companies. So he changes the priority list into lucrative circles--Punjab and Maharashtra--that is first come, first served. One change after the other so as to steer the licences entirely to the companies he was favouring.
Do you get a sense that the CBI knows exactly what has happened?
I have no doubt about it because in some cases the very officers who were handling the material, who were handling these manipulations, have testified to the CBI.
That is to my personal knowledge, because the officers have told me what they have told the CBI. And if I may so, I have conveyed this even before, from the CBI to the higher persons in the gov ernment. Nothing happened.
This govern ment?
The UPA govern ment. The CBI, therefore, knows to such an extent that the officer sir, these compa has said, `Yes sir, these companies' representatives would bring the note which he should sign on a pen drive. It would be put into my computer, a print taken and Raja would sign it.' This detail the CBI knows. CBI knows the identity of the front companies that were used.
The front companies were used to get licences or transfer bribes?
Licences, of course, are well known.
And front companies for money transactions?
I would have no doubt otherwise; you are not doing charity here.
The CBI knows the identity of the critical person who handled the money and it is a mystery to the other officers as to why that particular officer has not been questioned to this day.
He has still not been questioned?
He has still not been questioned.
And if they talk to him now, he might tell them the truth?
I think so. These people are quite ambitious themselves. They just don't do things for their masters.
The CBI's thing is that we have to take the government's permission because he is of such and such rank. But what is the problem?
You go and take the permission and if the government refuses, then that itself will prove the point.
So would you think that if CBI were to ask for permission to go and prosecute this particular officer or officers of that rank, the government wouldn't even dare to deny them permission?
I don't think so. I don't think it's a question of daring. I think now it's a question of slight anger also.
The government is angry?
I think so. I will tell you why.
What happened was there were fisticuffs in Sanchar Bhavan, because these applications had to be given to the Central Registry. To keep the others from giving the applications, musclemen were employed and they were beaten up and there was a lot of scuffle. That very day, the Prime Minister writes to Raja, saying adopt these proce dures and so on and in the end he says, `please examine the question of auctioning the spectrum and determining its price in a fair and transparent manner'.
The Prime Minister himself writes to him?
Yes, he himself writes to him. And what does Raja do? In a letter drafted by a person whom the CBI knows about--Raja can't draft that letter--Raja then implicates Pranab Mukherjee in the thing that `I have kept honourable senior minister Pranab Mukherjee fully informed'. So naturally Mr Pranab Mukherjee would have been incensed.
But Mr Pranab Mukherjee is not a fool. He is a very competent minister.
Absolutely. He is the keystone of not just the government today but of the whole political structure.
Absolutely. He has got goodwill across all sides and respect.
(He is) a very seasoned and mature person and he would not be condoning any of this nonsense.
The second thing that happens is that in the affidavit which was filed by the department of telecom in Raja's defence, it's not Pranab Mukherjee but the Prime Minister who has been implicated. It says, `I kept the Prime Minister informed of all this.' But this is an amazing government that a ministry can file an affidavit in such a controversial case implicating the Prime Minister?
I am actually astonished, because there is a thing called the transaction of business rules. It provides that if there is a matter which involves different ministries, then you must consult them. Secondly, if there is a disagreement, then collective deliberation must be exercised and the decision will be taken by the Cabinet or by the group of ministers as authorised.
In this case, it was a matter of great controversy, not just the affidavit, but even on the auctioning, nonauctioning of spectrum, methods of allocation of licences and to his great credit, Chidambaram as Finance Minister repeatedly insisted on spectrum auctioning. The Law Minister, Mr Bhardwaj, wrote that given the implications of this particular matter, a group of ministers should be set up.
Even Mr Bhardwaj?
But you see, you have to give credit to the person. He took a firm stand, a clear stand on this.
No, I said Mr Bhardwaj because you would expect political flexibility from him--ally ko accommodate karna hai.
Could be, but in this case, he took a clear line under the rules of business, under the transaction of business rules, and Raja completely disregards that. So not just the affidavit, I think they had filed it on their own without consultation with the other departments which are implicated. And certainly the Prime Minister, I would be surprised. I would be surprised on both counts. If the Prime Minister did not know, then it would be a very surprising thing.
You think normally the Prime Minister would have known, since you have been inside the system? You know prime ministers have a way of knowing what's going on.
Yes, there is a delicious incident.
Yashwant Sinha told me that you must remember prime ministers know everything under our system.
And he narrates that when he was finance minister, he got a message from the leader of a state, saying, `please meet me'. Mr Sinha mentioned it to Prime Minister Mr Vajpayee. A month or two later, there was a lunch. Nobody knew about it.
He (Sinha) had gone in an unmarked car. Lunch was over and this person handed him an envelope at the end of the lunch. Sinha put it in his pocket, came back and when he opened it, it was about some cases the person was involved in or the others were involved in and these were arguments as to why these cases do not merit consideration. So when he met Mr Vajpayee, he told him `unhone yeh kaha, maine yeh kaha'. Atalji kept listening, and then said, "aur woh lifafa (and that envelope)?" Sinha said he had not mentioned the lifafa. He had forgotten about it, but the Prime Minister knew. And he narrates several such instances.
But now you think the Prime Minister had also had it?
Yes, I think there is such brazenness in this and the CAG's report is quite well-documented and apart from the CAG, the facts are there.
And he is not just implicating Arun Shourie or Pramod Mahajan--we are nobody, but Pranab Mukherjee one day, the Prime Minister one day.
Only Sonia Gandhi is left?
Sonia Gandhi se to darna padta hai.
Raja talks about following firstcome first-served. But he says he (Shourie) also followed an old price discovered spectrum and I also did that.
In 2001, tele-density in India was 3.8 per cent of the population. Today, it is nearly 50 per cent. At that time, spectrum was not short. Mobile telephony had just come. To encourage that, there was a policy.
The whole sector had collapsed because of the fixed licence fee. So there was a transition to 1999.
Okay, you don't pay the fixed fee, you pay a share of the revenue. It saved the sector and led to growth.
At that time, that price was discovered. In 2003, if you look at the figures, there was hardly any growth, 3.8 went to about 5 per cent (teledensity). Now, when you have this enormous growth, to say that this asset costs only that much, and a very interesting point also, the licences which were given were not being used in some parts of the country, northeast, I think Orissa or West Bengal, one of the eastern states and Kashmir also. So we said, we should move towards auctioning. We should separate licencing from spectrum. In the meantime, don't hold up this process, go with the 2001 price. All this was done not by me alone, but by the group of ministers, by the cabinet.
But he says that I have raised so much money from my 3G auction, nobody has done it.
Because he has been forced to auction it, otherwise he would have done the 2G thing again in 3G.
And that's when Pranab Mukherjee took charge.
He had to. In the terms of reference of the group of ministers, the pricing of spectrum was included and Raja insisted this should be taken out. And somehow it was taken out and it could not have been done under our system without the knowledge of the Prime Minister. Of course, the Prime Minister has many other big things to do and was maybe not paying any attention to this but this is the kind of thing Raja's people will now argue in court.
How good is the CBI? How good is our system for catching this?
The CBI is quite competent to do these things, but unfortunately it has lost the will to do it, because it has been manipulated by politicians.
Why is your party insisting on JPC? Is that a better way of doing it?
With great respect to the Opposition, I think this is not the right demand at all. There was a JPC on Harshad Mehta, what happened?
Nothing. Bofors, nothing happened.
Pardon me for being cynical.
Look at the BJP. Look at the state governments the BJP is running. Look at Jharkhand, look at Karnataka, they are among two of the most corrupt governments in India.
Well, there is a great homogenisation of political parties. I think that's a great problem. If you go to Karnataka today and say what does X or Y party stand for, they stand for the same things. So, one should differentiate oneself by one's conduct. I believe idealism is the practical politics today.
So you think overall, the action taken in the Raja case is a cause for some cheer?
Yes, I think in three-four cases-in Adarsh Society, in Raja's case, in the Commowealth Games.
Once again, a good beginning, but we must once begin and then persevere. I am delighted that action has been taken. All of us wish that the Prime Minister would exercise his authority more. Otherwise what is happening is what happened in Raja's case, that under the umbrella of the Prime Minister's good name, all this dacoity was going on. It is not a service to the country for a good person to be merely a good person in his own right.
Arun, always a privilege to share a walk the talk with you and a much bigger privilege to walk in your steps.
Transcribed by Sutirtha Sanyal