Cong rubbishes finance ministry’s 2G note
New Delhi, After the opposition, it was the turn of Congress members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on telecom to trash the controversial March 25, 2011 2G note that was issued by the finance ministry, amended by cabinet secretariat and vetted by the Prime Minister's Office.
The note on the now scrapped 2G licences created a furore last year for suggesting that home minister P Chidambaram - as finance minister in UPA-1 - could have stopped the scam if he had insisted on auctions and led to the opposition intensifying its demand for Chidambaram's resignation.
On Tuesday, Congress MP Manish Tewari grilled economic affairs secretary R Gopalan, arguing that the note was not worth the paper it was written on, being riddled with factual and conceptual inaccuracies. The note could not support any of the conclusions reached by the opposition, including targeting Chidambaram and the PM, as even basic facts were wrong.
Attacking the "integrity" of the note, Tewari posed close to 20 questions to Gopalan and said the draft sent to the cabinet secretariat on March 17, 2011 did not contain any reference to Chidambaram. But the amended note returned to the finance ministry the next day included the crucial reference to the minister's concurrence to 2G pricing.
After the note became public, Chidambaram had protested while finance minister Pranab Mukherjee distanced himself from the specific remark. Finally, under directions from the Congress high command, Mukherjee read out a statement that certain parts of the note issued by his ministry did not reflect his views.
At the JPC meeting, Tewari asked how the cabinet secretariat could have "dreamt about the role of Chidambaram" when it was not there in the draft. The MP said the note's contents were at variance with facts on the ground and pointed out that three different reasons have been stated for it being compiled through an intra-government exercise.
At one point, an official said on March 23, 2011 that the note was needed to reconcile records with information provided to the Comptroller and Auditor General and Parliament's Public Accounts Committee. In a letter to the PM, Mukherjee suggested that the provocation was Chidambaram's statement suggesting he had advocated auctions. Then there were other notes as well. "What was the trigger," Tewari is learnt to have asked.
Gopalan is understood to have replied that the effort was aimed at going over how the events were interpreted and to refine the understanding of 2G issues within government.
Tewari also questioned October 31, 2003 as the starting point of the note when the telecom sector was opened to private participation in 1992. He also brought up former telecom minister Arun Shourie's note on the financial implications of revenue loss in 2004-05 and it being at variance with what the 2011 document said. "Where did you get the figures from," he asked.
In the JPC meeting which was thinly attended by opposition members, Congress nominees seemed to have spared no effort in a paragraph-by-paragraph critique of the note. "Even basic facts are wrong," an MP said pointing to the proposal initiated by the NDA government in 2003.