Monday, November 15, 2010

2G scam: Kapil Sibal likely to get Telecom portfolio, say sources

New Delhi:  Kapil Sibal, currently Minister for Human Resources Development, is likely to be asked to take additional charge of the Telecom Ministry. A Raja resigned as Telecom Minister last night after a glut of accusations over his alleged corruption and pivotal role in the 2G scam.

Last week, Sibal was given additional charge of Science and Technology after Prithviraj Chavan was moved to Maharashtra as the chief minister following Ashok Chavan's dismissal on the grounds of misusing his office to corner apartments for his family in a building that was meant to house war widows and defence veterans.

It's not yet clear whether the Telecom portfolio will be handled temporarily by Sibal till a larger cabinet reshuffle takes shape.

The DMK- which had till last evening resisted Raja's exit - may not be entirely pleased with the Telecom portfolio not being assigned to another DMK leader. After Raja resigned, both the Congress and the DMK have stressed that their alliance remains intact, and that the DMK will continue to participate in the UPA government at the Centre.

In Parliament, the Opposition once again demanded- chanted in unison, in fact - "We want a JPC (joint parliamentary committee)." The government, however, emphatically ruled this out. "Where is the need for the PM to speak on Raja?" said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. 

Raja was forced towards the exit door of his ministry mainly by a report of the government's auditor that was leaked last week to the media. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was ferocious in its indictment of Raja, accusing him of costing the government close to 1.76 lakh crores. Policies that violated official guidelines and favouritism towards companies that seemed ineligible for 2G licenses were attributed directly to Raja. Till 2008, he chose to award licenses at rates determined in 2001.

Raja has stressed that his resignation should not be misread as an admission of guilt. His party, the DMK, has also maintained that it stands by him and believes he is innocent.

That crucial CAG report will, sources say, be tabled in parliament tomorrow. Mukherjee has called a lunch meeting of all parties in the hope of ending the impasse in Parliament - since the winter session began last week, the Opposition has refused to let parliament function, protesting that Raja must go, and that the government should set up a joint parliamentary committee because the CBI, which is investigating Raja, is not an impartial body and function as an extension of the government.

Dismissing that accusation, Home Minister P Chidambaram said that he CAG report will be examined, as its meant to, by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is headed by a leader of the Opposition .

"A JPC is not needed because the 2 G scam - and the  CAG report will be studied by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is headed by  a member of the Opposition, and is therefore held to be impartial," said Chidambaram.

He PM was expected to address Parliament today on Raja's resignation and the 2G scam, but the government apparently re-thought the issue this morning. "Why should the PM speak?" asked Mukherjee. "In an attempt to turn the tables on the BJP, he referred to the Tehelka expose and said, "When George Fernandes resigned, did Vajpayee make a statement?"

Weekend politics
 
It was a hectic weekend that saw much political activity in Delhi and Chennai. An impatient Raja told reporters at the Delhi airport that there was no question of him stepping down, but there were indications otherwise. 

In Delhi, the Congress' top rung, including the Prime Minster and Sonia Gandhi met to discuss Raja's exit.

In Chennai, Raja met with DMK chief Karunanidhi twice before heading to Delhi. At one point, seven senior Congress leaders, including Home Minister P Chidambaram were reportedly in touch with the DMK to orchestrate Raja's exit.

Government's auditor last week blamed Raja for costing the government close to Rs. 1.76 lakh crores by undervaluing 2G spectrum in 2008, and, by following unfair practices in deciding who would be awarded 2G licenses.  The Comptroller and Auditor General's report (CAG) was leaked to the media.  It is to be tabled in Parliament shortly.

TRAI to recommend penalty

•    Telecom regulator TRAI is likely to recommend huge penalty or cancellation of licences of those operators who have either failed to launch services or cover particular areas within the stipulated time. 

•    Many of them are yet to meet the roll-out obligations, or even launch the services. 

•    TRAI recommendations would include all the new licensees, who were given in January, 2008 by Raja. 

•    The TRAI Chairman is believed to have said they are working on it, the recommendations may be given soon to the government.

The Supreme Court which is monitoring the case is scheduled to hear the matter on Monday. Raja's resignation, hours ahead of that hearing, may have been stage-managed by the Government to avoid more embarrassment in court.  At an earlier hearing, the court asked why Raja had not been removed from office.

WHAT IS THE 2G SCAM?

•    2G licenses issued in the year 2008 at 2001 prices
•    Raja insisted on 'first come-first served' policy
•    9 companies got licenses for nearly Rs. 10, 800 crore
•    Some firms sold partial stakes for much higher rates
•    CAG: Govt lost between Rs. 1.4 & 1.76 lakh crore 
•    CAG: Raja ignored advice of Law, Finance ministries

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