RAJA’S MEETINGS WITH PM AND PRANAB
In the first week of December 2007 I had another meeting with the Prime Minister. During that discussion, I explained the background of the TRAI recommendation and its legal interpretations. I handed over copies of the Finance Ministry’s letter (22 November 2007) and the Telecom Ministry’s reply letter (29 November 2007). After going through the letters, the PM gave me a good suggestion, “There is nothing wrong in your effort to prove that you have legal justification for every action of yours. I know well that some of the Ministerial colleagues have a partisan view on this issue. On one side the pendency of judicial proceedings, on the other side the insufficient understanding within the Cabinet and the media’s attempts to depict as if a very big irregularity was taking place; so, you send me a note after examining the ways to resolve this issue which is considered to be a complex one after holding talks in detail with both Pranab Mukherjee, the Chairman of the GoM on spectrum and Vahanvati, the Solicitor General who is appearing in these cases, enabling us to find a right course of action.” He also spoke to Pranab Mukherjee in my presence over the phone to facilitate my follow-up…
Subsequently, I met Pranab Mukherjee in his office and explained to him with relevant documents the details of the discussion that I had with the Prime Minister. I also apprised him that I would soon be meeting the Solicitor General Vahanvati. I held talks with Vahanvati, in the second week of December 2007. I requested him to prepare a brief note on the stand taken by the Government in the cases filed by COAI and the procedures to be adopted in the issuance of new licenses and dual technology. In the same week after the note was prepared, I again met Pranab Mukherjee in his office along with Vahanvati. As the Chairman of the GoM on Spectrum, Pranab Mukherjee who had adequate information and knowledge about the documents started the discussions with questions related to the additional spectrum demanded by COAI, the dual technology request of the CDMA companies and the new licenses. Vahanvati walked us through his note in about fifteen minutes touching upon the unwarranted litigation by COAI while elaborating the legal position in offering dual technology as also the procedures to be followed in the issuance of new licenses and related allocation of spectrum. Once Vahanvati left, Pranab Mukherjee conferred further with me and then told me that he would be sending a note directly to the PM but also asked me to inform the PM myself, highlighting the steps to be taken in the light of the discussion we had just completed. Accordingly, on 26 December 2007, I wrote to the PM a detailed letter (Annexure-IV) including an annexure with extensive details about the subscriber base criteria for the additional spectrum to be given to existing companies, dual technology, new licenses and allotment of spectrum. This letter was subsequently incorporated as a reference document into the policy file workflow related to issuing new licenses. In the context of processing of large number of applications received for fresh licenses against the backdrop of inadequate spectrum to cater to overall demand, I reiterated the fact that DoT would continue to implement first come first served (FCFS) policy and that the UASL licensing and spectrum allocation is a 3-step process…
Pranab Mukherjee also sent a note from his side to the PM as he had assured me. When I met the Prime Minister later on, I learnt that Mr. Pranab Mukherjee’s note and my letter were reviewed together in the PM’s office in the first week of January 2008. The PM said that during that meeting he had been fully briefed on this matter. He also said that the Finance Minister had expressed the view that more revenue has to be earned from the existing telecom companies that had been granted excess/additional spectrum. I reminded him of my perspective that I had already conveyed to him in our earlier meeting about some companies having spectrum up to 10-12 MHz, much beyond the license agreement and that too free of cost. I assured him that I would speak to the Finance Minister in this regard very soon. I don’t intend to imply that I had obtained approval on the files from the PM for every single step. There is no need for that as per the rules and government procedures. I am only re-emphasising that the PM had been kept fully aware of all my actions. Not only was there no resistance from him but he had also explicitly conveyed his support to my efforts. It is alarming and unfortunate that the letters between me and the PM were later subjected to critical scrutiny and unwarranted speculation by the media, CAG and the Supreme Court.
‘BEHURA ADDED A LINE IN PRESS NOTE’
Subsequent to my meeting with the Prime Minister and Subsequent to my meeting with the Prime Minister and with his concurrence, I followed up with the ministry officials to expeditiously execute the process of issuing licenses. As early as on 15 October 2007, a committee had been formed by the Secretary to the Telecom Ministry to scrutinize the applications received until 25 September 2007 for their eligibility. The files were forwarded to me for final sign-off with the fully qualified recommendations – to accept or reject the application – of the officers of various wings (Finance, Legal and Technical) within that committee. I found the decisions taken by the officers to be correct during my review for sign-off. I found no cause to write in any file to accept an application rejected by the committee or to reject any application accepted by it. This file that contained the proposal for the issuance of LoI’s as mooted by DDG (AS) was approved on 7 January 2008 by Member (T) and Member (Finance) and was sent to Siddharth Behura, Secretary (Telecom). After it was duly signed by him and Member (T), Behura wrote a postscript, “If approved, a press release may be issued, draft of which is placed at flag ’x’”. I signed the file after reviewing all the details and making the note, “approved: pl. obtain SG’s opinion since he is appearing before the TDSAT and High Court.”
Thereafter, my Private Secretary R.K. Chandolia came back to me and pointed out that there was a difference in the Press Note and the decision recorded in the file. I reviewed the file and the press note again. A particular sentence in the press note was not present either in the guidelines, in the files, in the letter written by me to the Prime Minister or in the note prepared by the Solicitor General or in the department files. That sentence was, “However, if more than one applicant complies with LOI condition on the same date, the inter-se seniority would be decided by the date of application.”
It was clearly a new stipulation introduced by the Secretary (T)—who incidentally also became an accused in the court case. That new stipulation had never been agreed in the ministry, discussed with Pranab Mukherjee the Chairman of the GoM or shared with the Prime Minister. On the same day (7 January 2008), I wrote in that file,“‘X’ is not necessary as it is a new stipulation” and signed after deleting that sentence. Since the file contained reference to that press note, I wrote below the already written note using the same pen just above my signature, “Press release approved as amended.” After my correcting the press note, when the file was sent to the Secretary (T) he forwarded it to the Solicitor General who wrote in it, “I have seen the notes. The issue regarding new LOIs are not before any court. What is proposed is fair and reasonable. The press release makes transparency. This seems to be in order.” I also signed off on 9 January 2008 in the separate files regarding the eligibility of companies. After completing this due process, Letters of Intent for the licenses were issued by the Ministry to the eligible applicants on 10 January 2008. That very day many of these applicants fulfilled the conditions mentioned in the LoI while just a couple of applicants completed their formalities the next day. After the issuance of LoI and the fulfilment of requisite conditions by the applicants, the Ministry completed the job of signing the actual licenses.
‘WHO SENT THE ANNEXURE FROM PMO?’
While on the way to my official residence 2A, Motilal Nehru Marg I sought an appointment with the PM. I called in my PA, prepared my resignation letter and then went to the PM’s residence. The Prime Minister appeared to be gloomy and perturbed. He offered me tea and I handed him my resignation letter. He spoke dejectedly about the whole situation, the oral observations of the Supreme Court and about his name having been unduly dragged down. I carefully listened to him and then with all humility I clearly told him, “The procedure I followed in the allocation of spectrum was all legally valid and correct. Your principal secretary discussed with me once or twice in this regard (The Prime Minister was not aware of this). You came to know only later that an annexure sent along with your letter dated 2 November 2007 which spoke about spectrum auction, was against the NTP-99, the Cabinet decision and the TRAI Recommendation. But, who was responsible for that annexure to be sent along with your letter from the PMO? How did your senior officials including the Principal Secretary permit that to happen? Had that letter not been sent from your end, you would not be in a mess. CAG too would not have made the absurd comment that I had ignored the advice of the Prime Minister. Without informing you, an unsigned annexure containing the write-up of COAI, contrary to NTP-99, UASL guidelines and TRAI recommendation 2007 was sent to me even without the knowledge of the Joint Secretary (Telecom) in the PMO. I am prepared for any kind of enquiry. Even at this stage I am fully satisfied with my performance in the Telecom Ministry and I am prepared for a debate in the Parliament if need be.”
‘VAHANVATI’S VOLTE FACE’
I must now discuss the statement given by Vahanvati to the CBI that the correction in the press note was not present when the file was sent to him based on which charges were framed against me under IPC 468 and 471 for forging and tampering records. Vahanvati is no more and I have moved past my initial anguish and anger to a feeling of pity for him now… I would like to examine, late Vahanvati’s stand keeping in mind this third right mentioned above. In his statement to CBI Vahanvati had said that no meeting took place between us and Pranab Mukherjee, the Chairman GoM which I had also referenced in my letter to the PM. The CBI’s charge-sheet of 2 April 2011 says that no meeting took place between Pranab Mukherjee, Vahanvati and me; whereas on 25 March 2011, on behalf of Pranab Mukherjee his Personal Secretary Manoj Pant wrote a letter to D.R. Mohanty, Deputy Secretary, Lok Sabha Secretariat (in the PAC proceedings) stating that “In November, Hon’ble PM had asked Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the External Affairs Minister to apprise himself of the issues raised by the COAI and some GSM operators challenging the criteria for allocation of addl. GSM spectrum with Shri A. Raja the then MOCIT and Shri G.E. Vahanvati, the then SG in the context of proceedings pending in the TDSAT. In this context, Shri Pranab Mukherjee held a meeting with MOCIT and the SG in the first week of December 2007.” Mukherjee had officially documented the decisions taken in that meeting and sent a copy to the Prime Minister on 26 December 2007 itself. When Vahanvati gave testimony contrary to my statements then wasn’t it the CBI’s responsibility to verify this with Mukherjee as well? CBI relied only on the statement of Vahanvati and mentioned in the charge-sheet that no such meeting had taken place and alleged that my letter to the PM was written in order to mislead him. Now, the question is whether the sentence I had struck off, “However, if more than one applicant complies with LOI conditions on the same date, the inter se seniority would be decided by the date of application” was found anywhere in the file, in my letter to the PM or in the note Vahanvati himself had given to Pranab Mukherjee. Is it not true that there was no such reference? Since I had written the corresponding observation in the file using a different pen, CBI made a mountain out of this molehill and alleged ‘forgery’ and sent the document to the forensic lab!
Vahanvati who was representing the Telecom Department in the case, quoted in his affidavit while filing the counter on behalf of the Government, “Accordingly a press release was issued in this respect on 10 January 2008. In the Press Release it was also informed that ‘DoT has been implementing a policy of First-Come-First Served for grant of UAS licenses under which initially an application which is received first will be processed first and thereafter if found eligible will be granted LOI and then whosoever complies with the conditions of LOI first will be granted UAS license.’ The press release dated 10 January 2008 was to only clarify the continuous stand of DoT regarding the award of UAS Licenses and no new policy of first come first served basis was formed which was actually continuing since November 2003.” It is simply unbelievable that the SG would have defended the Press Release if he had not been convinced of its legality. Furthermore, if the Press Release as issued was different from the version seen by him, then these were the perfect occasions to speak out!
Vahanvati came to the witness Box of the Special CBI court on 27 February 2013 and just prior to the lunch break he asked the special judge, “Can I speak to the former Minister? He is well known to me. I want to enquire about his health.” The judge Honourable O.P. Saini said, “Yes. Yes. You can talk with him. He was former Minister. You were then SG. No problem.” Vahanvati should not have come to me and I regret that I vented the bitterness in my heart then. He came near me and asked, “Are you aggrieved with me?” I said, “There is nothing to feel sad. But your behaviour did not befit your stature.” He clasped my hands and said, “Please understand my position. Media goes on with whatever they like. I do not have enough of support from the Government too. What can I do?” He felt sorry….
There is another atrocious aspect to this which also unfortunately relates to someone who is no more. I hesitate to speak ill of the departed but I must also document the truth. Palsania, DIG, CBI is the man in question. He too did not investigate the matter thoroughly and gave false testimony before the JPC on 24 July 2012. In the JPC meeting Tiruchi Siva, MP raised a question about the discussion held in the office of Pranab Mukherjee. Palsania responded, “The meeting exclusively dealt with vacation of spectrum…. It did not deal with what manner the licenses are to be allocated…. That is reflected in the charge sheet.” How could Palsania make such a blatantly false claim given that Pranab Mukherjee himself had documented what was discussed in the meeting and had sent it to the PMO? Yet his investigation and the CBI’s charge-sheet were deemed veritable and treated as key evidence by the Supreme Court Bench.
CHAT WITH SUNIL MITTAL
Even during that meeting which took place in the end of October 2007, Sunil Mittal was insistent that TRAI’s recommendations must be scaled back—in fact he demanded the subscriber base criteria should be halved—and that dual (GSM and CDMA) technology should not be permitted.
I: “How can I as a Minister reject a report of TRAI based on scientific facts without any basis? Either the recommendations must be sent back to the Authority or must be reviewed through due process. Then the base criteria could be reduced if it is deemed viable. Since the recommendations have already been accepted by the Department of Telecom, there is nothing I can do now.”
Mittal: “In that case, do not allot any spectrum or issue new license till the case is resolved.”
I: “When there is no stay order in the case how can I stop allocation?”
Mittal: “Is it not reason enough that the case is pending?”
I emphasised: “Even after giving additional spectrum to all your companies (COAI), considerable amount of Spectrum has been identified for new providers at this point. So, it is just not possible to suspend all this at this stage.”
I admired the confidence—even though it had shades of smug conceit—of Sunil Mittal who probably believed that the Telecom Sector’s governing bodies were obliged to pander to an industry player of his stature.
Extracted with permission from 2G Saga Unfolds by Andimuthu Raja, Har-Anand Publications Pvt Ltd, Pages 222, Price Rs 795. The book will be available for purchase online at www.haranandbooks.com