New Delhi: Former Telecom Minister A Raja has told a Joint Parliamentary Committee that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was fully aware of telecom policy decisions and has accused Attorney General GE Vahanvati of telling a "series of untruths" against him. Responding to a questionnaire sent by the committee, Raja said both Prime Minister and the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee were kept informed on the licensing policy.
He said discussions were held between him and Mukherjee in December 2007 on subscriber base criteria for allotment of additional spectrum, issue of dual technology and issue of new licences. In his 17-page note, Raja has said that he had "exchanged letter" with the Prime Minister on November 2, 2007 on various issues relating to the telecom sector and also had subsequent personal discussions on the subject.
"It was agreed in these discussions that the Minister of Communication and IT would have discussions with Sh Pranab Mukherjee, the then External Affairs Minister, since he was heading the Group of Ministers on vacation of spectrum," he said in his March 13 note to JPC. He said discussions were held between him and Mukherjee in December, 2007 on subscriber base criteria for allotment of additional spectrum, issue of dual technology and issue of new licences.
Raja also said both Prime Minister and the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee were kept informed on the licensing policy.
Giving details of the sequence of events in run up to the allocation done in January 2008, Raja said Vahanvati, the then Solicitor General, was also present in these discussions as same issues were the subject of litigation before Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). "It is evident that the letter of 26.12.2007 sent by the Minister of Communication and IT to the Hon'ble PM is nothing but an encapsulation of the note given by the Solicitor General and the subsequent discussions between the SG, External Affairs Minister and Minister of Communication and IT.
Hitting out at Vahanvati for his contention before JPC that the controversial press release regarding 2G licences was changed at the last minute by him (Raja) in 2008 with a different pen, Raja said the Solicitor General had defended the same press release for two years in different courts without raising any question on its authenticity. He said for the purpose of discussions with Mukherjee, Vahanvati had prepared a note dealing with subscriber base criteria for allotment of additional spectrum, issue of dual technology, manner in which spectrum will be allocated and the issue of new telecom licences.
"...Thus government is obliged to scrutinise the pending applications and if the applicants are found eligible, to issue licences on a first-come-first-served basis..." Raja told JPC quoting Vahanvati's note. Raja said based on Vahanvati's note, on December 26, 2007 Mukherjee also prepared his own note and forwarded both the documents to the Prime Minister.
He said on the same day, he also sent a letter to the Prime Minister based on the discussions with Mukherjee and Vahanvati. Hitting back at the AG over his deposition before JPC, Raja said Vahanvati's claim that he was not involved in any policy decision by the government was not correct as his note to Mukherjee contained the "essence" of the entire policy of the DoT.
Raja said Vahanvati's explanation that DoT had approached him with the press release to know whether there was a stay in any court on the issue of licences is "absurd and unbelievable". "This factual point was well within the knowledge of the DoT, and the SG's opinion was being asked on the policy," the DMK MP told the JPC.
In reply to a specific query by JPC as to when was the sentence 'press release approved as amended' recorded by him in the file, Raja said it was written before the file was sent to Vahanvati. Vahanvati had told JPC that the press note regarding 2G licences was changed at the last minute by Raja with a different pen.
"After I had recorded my approval to the note put by the DoT officials and directed them to take the opinion of the Solicitor General, my attention was drawn to the fact that the last paragraph of the draft press release was not in conformity with what had been approved on the file and previously communicated to the PM. It would in fact create a totally new method of grant of licences. I, therefore, deleted the last pararaph...and also recorded in the file that the press release was being approved as amended...I wish to emphasise that my note was written prior to the file being sent to the Solicitor General," he said.
On use of different pens to write 'approved; pl obtain Solicitor General's opinion' and 'press release appd (approved) as amended' on the same note, Raja contended that "it is purely a matter of chance" that he picked up one of the various pens on his table to write the two sentences. "To make such a major claim of forgery/fabrication based on this fact is just without any understanding of law or practice," he said.
Raja also claimed that Vahanvati dealt with the press release and the impact of deleting the last paragraph in various litigations in 2008, 2009 in the TDSAT, High Court and the Supreme Court. "...and never once mentioned anywhere that this press release was different to what had been seen by him. On the contrary, he (Vahanvati) in fact defended the amended press release," he told JPC.
(With Additional Inputs From PTI)