Column : And now Mr Sibal quotes the CAG!

Written by Rishi Raj | Updated: Mar 24 2011, 07:35am hrs
There are no permanent enemies, no permanent friends, only permanent interests

The best practitioner of the Churchillian dictum today appears to be telecom minister Kapil Sibal, in the manner in which he is handling various scams and non-scams under his charge. The manner in which he has consistently sought to downplay the 2G spectrum scam (to the extent of saying there was no loss since auctions were never an option!) while now trying to sensationalise the VSNL non-scam is truly amazing. Five glaring instances of doublespeak come to mind.

l Protection of public assets: Mr Sibal says he has ordered an inquiry into the manner in which VSNL was privatised in 2002 and why there was a delay in demerging the land (773 acres) while selling the company to the Tatas because he wants to protect public assets and ensure the money that rightfully belongs to Indian citizens comes back to them. Whatever the value of the land, it cannot be anywhere near the R70,000 crore to R1,76,000 crore that the CAG estimates the 2G scam cost the nation. If 773 acres of land are such a precious asset, how does Mr Sibal justify saying the 2G loss was zero Surely, spectrum is a more scarce resource Moreover, Mr Sibal has no reply to Arun Shouries point that when he sold VSNL, there was a clause that prevented the Tatas from selling off the land without the governments permission and that all the profits will accrue to the government when this sale finally takes place (see http://www.financialexpress.com/news/ask-pc-pranab-too-about-delay-in-vsnl-land-demerger-shourie/766116/0).

l CAG report: While asking the telecom secretary to constitute an inquiry into the VSNL sale, Mr Sibal has quoted from the CAG report which was critical of how surplus land was left with VSNL after the sale. Mr Sibal citing the CAG is really ironic, considering how he trashed its report on the 2G spectrum scam as utterly erroneous and as great disservice to the nation.

l Law ministry and AGs opinion: Mr Sibals letter to the telecom secretary also quoted the opinion of the then Attorney General, Milon Banerji (2006), to further his case for an inquiry into the VSNL disinvestment.

Its another matter that the AGs query is regarding the delay in the demerger of land. Yet, in all his speeches on the 2G scam, Mr Sibal never refers to the letters of the law secretary or the law minister that asked the then telecom minister A Raja to refer the matter to a Group of Ministers instead of giving out the licences at bargain-basement rates.

Or even the finance ministrys letters that tell Mr Raja he cannot go ahead with the licensing.

UPA versus NDA: Mr Sibals letter is critical of the manner of VSNLs disinvestment but is silent on the lack of action by the UPA. Mr Shourie defends his decision not to demerge the surplus land by arguing VSNL would have had to pay a stamp duty of R500 crore and this would be unfair, so he referred the matter to the finance ministry. While neither Mr Shourie nor the NDA have a good explanation for why no decision was taken from 2002 till 2004 when it was in power, Mr Sibal has no explanation for why his government took no decision on the matter for the next seven years. The minister was quick to order an inquiry going back to 2001, perhaps his VSNL inquiry should go forward, all the way to 2011

l Ministerial mandate: Mr Sibal has said that, as telecom minister, it is his mandate and not that of the finance minister to look after land held by telecom PSUs. Its nice that he is so aware of the rules of business allocation in the government. But this would suggest that he can also order an inquiry into the roles of former telecom ministers in the UPA regimeDayanidhi Maran (May 2004-May 2007) and A Raja (May 2007-November 2007) After all, why didnt these two colleagues of his not show the same alacrity that he has now shown

We await Mr Sibals response.

rishi.raj@expressindia.com