Swamy moves court against Sibal’s attack on CAG

Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy Friday moved the Supreme Court against the ”intemperate and uncalled for public attack” by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal on the ”CAG methodology”for calculating the loss in allocating 2G spectrum in 2008 at 2001 prices.

Swamy said that the way Sibal has led the attack on the CAG methodology for calculating the losses suffered by the government may “prejudice the CBI investigations and cause an obstruction to justice”.

His application pleaded that the court should “ensure that the said CBI inquiry is carried out without interference for which purpose the monitoring was directed by this hon’ble court. Nothing must permit the slightest derogation from that objective”.

The manner in which Sibal has criticized the approach of the CAG in estimating the loss “tantamount to ridiculing the CAG, an institution enshrined in the Constitution”, Dr. Swamy said.

“The telecom minister has even gone to the extent of issuing a veiled warning of a breach of secrecy on the part of the CAG, thereby intending to overawe an institution constitutionally empowered to oversee the finances of the government,” the application read.

The application said that it was evident from Sibal’s “considered view” “that in fact there was little or no wrongdoing, and hence whatever had gone wrong could be set right with a small fine”.

In pursuance of this thinking, Swamy said that the ministry has already collected Rs.73.73 crores as penalty by way of liquidated damages for certain infractions of the issued licenses. It is apprehended that further such adjudication by the ministry may be carried out.

Thus the money that would be collected, (around Rs. 219 crores at the highest) may not be even one percent of what these licenses would have fetched in the open market even by conservative estimates, he argued.

The application further pleaded the court to direct that all such and further adjudication by the ministry not be carried out except under the supervision of the apex court, and all the actions of the ministry in respect of 2G spectrum be subject to the orders of the apex court and its final verdict in this matter.

Swamy said that though the matter was still pending before the apex court, Sibal was talking about putting in place the new National Telecom Policy within a 100 days.

Audit ‘erroneous’ in fixing spectrum loss at $40 bn: Sibal

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal

Short of rejecting the official auditor’s report, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal Friday said the methodology it used was “utterly erroneous” in pegging Rs.1.76 lakh crore ($40 billion) as the notional loss while awarding airwaves for second generation (2G) phone services in 2008.Sibal also slammed the opposition for disrupting the entire winter session of parliament and spreading what he termed as “utter falsehood” in the country on the matter, having themselves framed the policy for award of airwaves or spectrum during their tenure.

Accordingly, he defended Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying he acted on the advice given to him by two senior cabinet colleagues based on the same set of arguments that were considered by the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

“Though we respect the exercise of that constitutional authority’s power, we do believe the exercise was flawed with serious errors, which has allowed the opposition to spread utter falsehood to the people,” he told a press conference here.

His reference was to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India which said the government’s policy on spectrum allocation for second generation (2G) telecom services caused a loss of between $12.8 billion and $40 billion to the exchequer.

“The figure of Rs.1.76 lakh crore is so utterly erroneous that I would have thought that a complicated and complex issue like this should not have led to the conclusion of this magnitude, which has embarrassed the government and the nation,” he said.

The minister said it was because of the policy in existence since 1999 that the average telecom tariff in India had came down from almost Rs.17 per minute (45 cents) to about Rs.3 (6 cents) per minute in 2004 and 30 paise (less than a cent) per minute now.

“This is the direct and tangible benefit. The benefit of this reduction in tariffs is estimated at over Rs.150,000 crore ($33 billion) per annum to the consumers,” he said. “The loss is Zero, nil,” he said, refuting the audit estimate point-by-point.

“The Comptroller and Auditor General has done injustice to itself, and the opposition is doing injustice to the aam aadmi,” he said. “We believe that the exercise was fraught with errors. We object to that.”

“If there is proof of any wrongdoing or criminal offence, the law will take its course,” said the minister, a lawyer by profession. “We are not here to protect or defend anyone.”

Sibal’s predecessor A. Raja was forced to resign in November after the official auditor indicted him in the spectrum allocation saga. The saga also blocked legislative business with the opposition unrelenting in its demand for a parliamentary probe.

Sibal said as per the 10th Five Year Plan document, drafted during the NDA regime (1998-2004), the growth of telecom sector was more important than revenues from the award of spectrum.

“Today they say revenue is important,” he said, adding the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Manmohan Singh, since it took power in May 2004, had only followed a policy set by the NDA.

The minister said the whole basis of pegging the presumptive loss to the money raised by way of auctioning airwaves for third generation (3G) telecom services to companies was also not a proper way of looking at matters.

“It may be thought the decision to auction 3G spectrum makes out an automatic case that 2G spectrum should also have been auctioned. This is not a valid conclusion,” he said.

“The government charges toll for the use of highways, but the use of rural road is never tolled,” he added, drawing an analogy between the common user’s 2G telecom services and those for companies and individuals for faster 3G services.