Friday, January 13, 2012

JPC spends two days on March 25, 2011 note of FinMin

A part of this report has appeared in DNA Mumbai edition on Jan 13, 2012

Official says it was done at instance of Cabinet Sec, PMO

New Delhi: In its 26th and 27th sittings, the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on Wednesday and Thursday spent time questioning finance ministry officials on the controversial note that the ministry had sent to the prime minister's office (PMO), which pointed to then finance minister P.Chidambaram being in the know about 2G spectrum allocation.

When it got leaked to the media in September last year when Singh was away in New York attending the UN General Assembly, there was a furore, and Chidambaram was visibly upset about it all, and Pranab Mukherjee went to New York from Washington where he was attending an IMF-World Bank meeting to give an explanation.

The stand-off between Mukherjee and Chidamabaram ended when Mukherjee gave a clarification that the note did not implicate Chidambaram in any way, and Chdiambaram had declared that the matter was closed.

The two issues that members raised was about the contents of the note. Finance secretary R.Gopalan has said that it was a compilation of facts collected from various departments. In this case, it meant the views and the correspondence between department of economic affairs (DEA) and the deaprtment of telecommunication (DoT).

On the two days, it was opposition members Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and S.S.Ahluwalia, all from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who led the questioning and it still remained inconclusive. On Thursday, Congress Manish Tiwari started the questioning.

JPC chairman P.C.Chacko, briefing media on Thursday evening, said that members wanted to know what the contents reflected. Gopalan had told the committee that it was nothing more than a compilation of facts, gathered from various departments and ministries involved in spectrum allocation. He was asked as to why the note was not made available to the committee when it got leaked to the media. Gopalan had admitted that it was his decision and he felt that it was not necessary to give the note as the committee was already familiar with all the facts mentioned in it.

Asked if the FinMin note was crucial for the JPC probe on 2G spectrum allocation, Chacko said that all of the facts mentioned in the note were available to the committee in the various files. But the committee felt compelled to deal with it at length because of the controversy it created in the media. “We could not have ignored it,” he said.

The issue that the members wanted to know was what it meant when it said the minister has seen the note. Chacko said that he had referred the issue to the ministry of law and the opinion of the ministry was that “minister has seen it” means that he is aware of the facts mentioned in the note but it does not mean that he approved of them.

Gopalan has also said that “non-papers” were also exhcanged between the secretary of DEA and secretary of DoT, but they were not official and that it was common practice of officials in ministries and departments to exchange notes which did not reflect official positions or decisions but it was part of the consultative process.

The official told the commitee that the note was prepared at the instance of the cabinet secretariat. When the note was sent, the prime minister's office (PMO) insisted that it be sent as Official Memorandum (OM) and not as an informal communication, so that it would be part of the record.

Chacko said because of the assembly elections in five states, many of the members would not be able to attend the meetings. The date for the next meeting will be decided later.

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