Former Director General of Audit, Post and Telecommunications, CAG, RP Singh on Saturday kept the controversy alive on his earlier claim that Public Accounts Committee Chairman and BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi had influenced the 2G report that indicted the government. Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, the ex-audit officer said that he had been misquoted by the newspaper which had initially carried the report.
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate and a special interview with former director general, post and telecommunications in the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, RP Singh.
Mr Singh, recently you have made some startling statement which has created a controversy but not everyone feel is fully understood. So, let me ask you to clarify some of the important things you have said. First you said that Murli Manohar Joshi as Chairman of the Pubic Accounts Committee sought to influence a report on 2G while the report was still being prepared. How confident are you of this claim?
RP Singh: I do remember that there is documentary evidence where it is stated that a member of PAC had asked to calculate losses using a particular formula. I cannot confirm the name but I can confirm the content.
Karan Thapar: When you say that this claim has been made in a newspaper. That newspaper is Friday Indian Express and it expressly said that you told the paper that Dr Murli Manohar Joshi as Chairman of the PAC sought to influence the CAG report. Do you stand by the Indian Express story which specifically quotes you? or are you refuting it?
RP Singh: I am not refuting, I am just saying one thing that I said a member of PAC. So that stands corrected for.
Karan Thapar: This is very important. You told the Indian Express that a member of the PAC had tried to influence the CAG report. Not Dr Joshi himself?
RP Singh: Right. You are right.
Karan Thapar: So the Indian Express which actually claims you suggesting Dr Joshi is inaccurate?
RP Singh: It has misquoted me.
Karan Thapar: It has misquoted you?
RP Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: So that report that has created a small sensation is inaccurate?
RP Singh: No, the name is inaccurate.
Karan Thapar: But the name is the most important thing because a member of PAC could be anyone of the 20 members. The paper talks about the chairman of the PAC, which is only Dr Joshi. So that is an inaccuracy?
RP Singh: The evidence relates only to a member.
Karan Thapar: There is no evidence of Dr Joshi trying to influence the CAG report.
RP Singh: Not I have seen.
Karan Thapar: So, that means the report in Indian Express is inaccurate?
RP Singh: To that extent, you can say so.
Karan Thapar: The second thing which you said has created a small sensation is that you told the Indian Express that members of the CAG, including senior members of the CAG, had gone to Dr Joshi house on April 22, 2011 to assist him in writing the PAC report on the CAG 2G report. Is that part of the Indian Express report accurate?
RP Singh: A team went. I also went to Dr Joshi's residence. Team visited his residence, not once but more than once. And yes, it is correct.
Karan Thapar: You say you yourself visited Dr Joshi's residence. On this particular day, April 22, 2011?
RP Singh: I don't remember the day but I did go to his house along with the deputy CAG, DG Mr Sinha and PD Mrs Subha Kumar and all the other team members.
Karan Thapar: This is very interesting because when you spoke to the Indian Express on Friday, you didn't reveal that you yourself had gone to Dr Joshi's house. You simply said and I am quoting you, "I got to know from my team that CAG officials including senior CAG officials, from headquarters went to the PAC Chairman's residence and assisted him in preparing the CAG report." In other words, you told the paper that you only found out this from your team. Now, you are telling me you yourself went. So it's a slightly different story?
RP Singh: It's not. I went once. The team visited him more than once.
Karan Thapar: Which members of your team told you that other people went more than once?
RP Singh: My AO report, who examine the report in my office. I know it personally.
Karan Thapar: Who is this Audit Officer?
RP Singh: He was taking my permission to go from my office. Therefore, I know it.
Karan Thapar: The other thing that you said to the Indian Express about these meetings at Dr Joshi's house and I am quoting, “ I can't say with certainty what exactly transpired at the meeting and yet you told the paper that these officials were assisting Dr Joshi to write the PAC report. How can you make that conclusion?
RP Singh: I visited only once. But happened in meetings when I accompanied them, I quoted in that context.
Karan Thapar: But the main point is to tell the Indian Express categorically that senior CAG officials had gone to Dr Joshi's house to assist in preparing the report. And yet you also told the paper that "I can't say with certainty about what transpired in the meeting". You can't have both positions.
RP Singh: It's not a question of both positions. I visited him once wherein my team, in my presence asked to reconcile certain things.
Karan Thapar: But those are legitimate questions he asked. That's not an illegitimate question. Where do you jumped to the conclusion that he asked CAG officials to write the PAC report or help write a PAC report?
RP Singh: Help you can say.
Karan Thapar: Where do you come to that conclusion?
RP Singh: You see, when my people went more than once, rather more than 3-4 times, I asked them what are you dong there. Then they told me that PAC report is being written and we are assisting.
Karan Thapar: And do you believe it was illegitimate and unwarranted assistance?
RP Singh: I would not like to comment.
Karan Thapar: But you stand by this claim that on several occasions, members of the CAG went to Dr Joshi's home and assisted him writing a PAC report?
RP Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: And your AO went with your permission?
RP Singh: He had to take my permission. He had to tell me where he is going.
Karan Thapar: Was it the correct thing for people like your AO and other CAG officials to do or was it improper thing to do?
RP Singh: You can say it both ways. When sometime some clarification is needed to give or to be sought for, that time it is legitimate. But if it is assistance in preparing the report of the PAC, the it is not done.
Karan Thapar: And are you sure that sometimes assistance in preparing the report was done?
RP Singh: I can't say it with certainty.
Karan Thapar: So you inferring and you are surmising.
RP Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Saturday's Indian Express says that at the PAC meeting on 30th of June, 2010, when you were present, Dr Joshi told the CAG that one way of calculating the presumptive loss would be based upon the money earned by the Unitech and Swan when they offloaded part of their equity. Can you confirm that newspaper's story?
RP Singh: This short of discussion did take place.
Karan Thapar: Dr Joshi did tell the CAG at that meeting of the PAC that one way of calculating the presumptive loss would be based upon the money earned by the Unitech and Swan when they offloaded part of their equity.
RP Singh: He gave this illustration while asking this question from Mr Ashok Chawla. That was the day when Mr Chawla appeared before the PAC. He asked him to calculate losses and report to him. Mr Chwla said he has no mechanism and no method to calculate actual losses. And in that connection, this discussion took place.
Karan Thapar: And in that connection, Dr Joshi offered this illustration of one way in which presumptive loss could be calculated.
RP Singh: You can say so.
Karan Thapar: So, this story published by the Indian Express on Saturday is accurate. The earlier stories were either inaccurate or not fully accurate?
RP Singh: By and large, ok.
Karan Thapar: Even as if Dr Joshi as you say gave an illustration of how presumptive loss can be calculated on the basis of Unitech and Swan earnings. That's not an improper thing for him to do. Because there were speculations already at that time that the amount of money earned by Unitech and Swan was one indication that 2G have been sold cheaply. So, everyone knew about this and if Dr Joshi used it as an illustration, was he doing something improper or wrong?
RP Singh: Illustration is one thing but it also gives you an impression as you are leading. The team has to work out on a particular line. So that is a little less that fair.
Karan Thapar: Did you get the impression that Dr Joshi was leading, that Dr Joshi was encouraging, that Dr Joshi was suggesting a way for the CAG to follow?
RP Singh: Through this illustration, yes. It can be one of the inferences.
Karan Thapar: Therefore, it was an improper thing to do?
RP Singh: From that angle, if it is true, then it is improper.
Karan Thapar: But once again you said something interesting. This can be one of the inferences. So once again you are inferring and surmising.
RP Singh: You can say so. But I know it's not proper.
Karan Thapar: Let me now take a stock of what you said about Dr Joshi. You backed away from the Indian Express report on Friday that Dr Joshi himself tried to influence the CAG report while it was under preparation. You said to me it wasn't Dr Joshi, you mentioned to the paper. You mentioned a member of the PAC that the newspaper incorrectly, wrongly quoted in claiming you, it was Dr Joshi. That's the right position?
RP Singh: The documentary evidence mentions a member of PAC, not Dr Joshi.
Karan Thapar: The second thing, the Indian Express quotes you saying that on the basis of what your colleagues have told you, even though you were not present at the meetings, Dr Joshi sought assistance of CAG officials in writing a PAC report.
RP Singh: There was assistance.
Karan Thapar: And thirdly, you said to me that you do believe, there was an instance on 30th of June, 2010 at a PAC meeting, when Dr Joshi tried to lead or guide or suggest the way the CAG could calculate the presumptive loss.
RP Singh: He suggested..
Karan Thapar: And this third thing, you believe is wrong?
RP Singh: It is less than fair.
Karan Thapar: Let's now come to the position you have taken on presumptive loss. You told the JPC last year that the only way of calculating presumptive loss is to inflation index the 2001 figure and as a result you came to a figure of Rs 2645 crore. Do you today stand by that?
RP Singh: This is the normal practice of calculating or updating or indexation is the internally accepted principle of knowing the correct value of anything.
Karan Thapar: So you stand by that?
RP Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: CAG Vinod Rai told the same JPC a couple of days after you that when ypu presented a draft report, you actually come up with four estimates of presumptive loss, including figures of 65,000 and another figure of slightly more than 1,02,000 crore. Therefore, he was saying that clearly you were not convinced of 2645 figure yourself.
RP Singh: These were the figures, the draft report submitted to me. While forwarding my final version, I gave reasons and told very clearly to maintain transparency that I am deleting these figures from my report for reasons a,b,c,d.
Karan Thapar: So you deleted the other figures and stand by 2645?
RP Singh: One more thing I mentioned about the figure in my report. Another figure which was around 37,000 crore and that reflects the value of the x-spectrum beyond the contractual agreement.
Karan Thapar: You are also saying to me that when Vinod Rai told the JPC that you had mentioned other figures, he is actually been truthful because you mentioned them, you also deleted them yourself.
RP Singh: You are right.
Karan Thapar: So, he is not being fair when he says that you weren't convinced of 2645?
RP Singh: He should have revealed it in totality.
Karan Thapar: You have revealed that you were ordered to sign the final report and only allowed to read the last page. Is that absolutely accurate?
RP Singh: Karan, let me be very frank with you. It was 6.30 in the evening of some month in July, 2011, deputy CAG Mrs Rekha Gupta summoned me and told me that this report needs to be delivered by tomorrow at 10 o'clock on the table of the Secretary Finance and Secretary Telecom. I came back to my office around 7.30 or 8. I ordered my team to prepare these things in a prescribed format along with the of complete KD (supporting key documents).
Karan Thapar: But when did you sign it?
RP Singh: I signed it that very day.
Karan Thapar: Did you sign it before reading the report itself?
RP Singh: I told you content of the report.
Karan Thapar: And the content of the report, specifically mentioned the presumptive loss figures that you had earlier disagreed with in writing. Is that right?
RP Singh: You are right.
Karan Thapar: Then why did you sign a report
RP Singh: There was an order I had to comply.
Karan Thapar: You could have refused..
RP Singh: No, there was no scope for refusal.
Karan Thapar: You mean you have lost your job if you refused.
RP Singh: You are under wrath.
Karan Thapar: So, rather than earned the wrath of the CAG by refusing, you chose to sign a report that you knew you disagreed with?
RP Singh: There is no tradition of disagreeing or opposing the orders of the CAG in the department I worked.
Karan Thapar: But the bottom line is you knew that the figure you are signing contained figure you disagreed with?
RP Singh: Which I had deleted.
Karan Thapar: And they have been reinstated.
RP Singh: Yes, restored.
Karan Thapar: And you knew that by signing it you would give the impression that you endorsed the report?
RP Singh: Ok.
Karan Thapar: You are speaking out today. Many people question why are you speaking out today, 14 months after you retired on 1st of September last year?
RP Singh: I didn't choose this time. The 2G auction has just closed. One of the journalists asked me that you had reported a loss of 1.76 lakh crore in your report, whereas the real auction price realized is much less.
Karan Thapar: You mean a question from a journalist prompted you to speak out?
RP Singh: No. He asked me how come you explain that huge difference. I told that the report reflected only the presumptive losses.
Karan Thapar: When I say you spoke out now, I am talking about revelations about CAG officials going to Dr Joshi's house, revelations or claims which you have now slightly differed from, that in fact Dr Joshi tried to influence the making of the report, revelations on the claims that you were forced to sign on the dotted line even though you disagreed to the report. Why didn't you make that claim the day you retired?
RP Singh: I have not chosen this time. There is huge difference between the current price discovered and the price which we quoted. Somebody asked my comment and I gave.
Karan Thapar: So, if the recent auction had not brought out this discrepancy, you would have kept quiet?
RP Singh: I would have.
Karan Thapar: You were for someone to ask you.
RP Singh: It's not like that.
Karan Thapar: People say that in fact the Congress party has put you up to this.
RP Singh: I don't think it has any substance.
Karan Thapar: There are stories doing the rounds that certain Congress ministers have been ringing newspaper editors, television editors to encourage them to interview you.
RP Singh: I won't know that.
Karan Thapar: There is no connection between you and the UPA government?
RP Singh: No connection.
Karan Thapar: people say the whole timing of the interview you given to the Indian Express and then the series of interviews you have given to the newspapers and TV channels is to do with the fact that you are trying to help the government?
RP Singh: It's not my intention.
Karan Thapar: So anyone who draws that inference or conclusion is maligning you?
RP Singh: Maybe.
Karan Thapar: You are telling me absolutely honestly that these interviews are not politically motivated?
RP Singh: Whatever I have said, I am not politically motivated.
Karan Thapar: Your conscience is clean?
RP Singh: I am very clean on this.
Karan Thapar: Mr Singh, thank you very much.