A reprieve for now, but Chidu is not off the hook

Official documents put a question mark on his role in 2G scandal

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | February 2, 2012




Home minister P Chidambaram may have got a reprieve from the supreme court but he is definitely not off the hook. Very soon, the CBI court dealing with the 2G scam will have to examine his role as the finance minister in the 2008 spectrum allocation, which the apex court described as “wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest apart from being violative of the doctrine of equality”. The court quashed all the 122 licences granted by the then telecom minister A Raja on the first-come-first-served basis and asked the government to take the auctioning route.

The apex court also refused to direct a CBI probe into Chidambaram’s involvement in the decision-making process saying that the CBI court was competent to deal with that issue too.

For updates on the supreme court verdict, read: SC cancels all 2G licences, trial court to decide PC's fate

Clearly, the action now shifts to the CBI court where the trial is on. Given the fact that apart from the government CBI too has been opposing the plea for a probe into Chidambaram’s role, it would be interesting to see the outcome. But if any evidence is required to point a finger at Chidambaram, there are plenty in the now famous Office Memorandum of March 25, 2011 from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office to the prime minister’s office (PMO) [attached below].

Mukherjee replaced Chidambaram as the finance minister post 26/11 when the latter was asked to take over the home ministry. The 2G spectrum allocation happened in April 2008 when Chidambaram was very much the finance minister.

The 13-page note is replete with references to the direct involvement of the finance minister in the decision-making process of 2G spectrum allocation.

The note begins with a reference to 2003 cabinet meeting (the NDA was in power then) which “decided that the department of telecommunication and the ministry of finance would discuss and finalise spectrum pricing formulae…”

The purpose of involving the finance ministry is then spelt out – “in order to spur investment and growth and ultimately yield more revenue to the government”. These would necessarily involve the finance minister.

The note, providing a “chronology of basic facts related to pricing and allocation of 2G spectrum”, goes on to list the number of times letters were exchanged and meetings took place to decide various issues relating to the spectrum allocation which involved Chidambaram.  It points out that Chidambaram took a position, in writing, which was at variance with his own ministry’s position (that the spectrum be auctioned) but in line with that of Raja. Both Chidambaram and Raja met several times too.

What these details show is that Chidambaram’s action may not be completely above board and he may have to explain far more than what he has cared to do so far.

Unless the CBI and the government manage to convince otherwise, the CBI court may have little to refuse a probe into Chidambaram’s role. Raja may be the main actor, but he couldn’t have carried off the operation on his own, without overt or covert support of many more who occupied far more powerful positions in the government.

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