RTI pricks BJP balloon on lack of minutes from PC-Raja meet

Written by Ronojoy Banerjee | Ronojoy Banerjee | Manoj C G | ManojCG | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 3 2011, 09:24am hrs
The BJP has been attacking the government on the absence of formal recorded minutes of a 2008 meeting between P Chidambaram and A Raja who were finance minister and telecom minister, respectively, at the time on 2G spectrum allocation, even calling it a serious lapse. In what could puncture the BJP attack, information obtained through a Right To Information Act (RTI) query reveals that such minutes were not maintained while the BJP-led NDA regime was in power either.

The main opposition party trained its guns on the government on this issue for the first time in August after officials of the department of economic affairs (DEA) told the joint parliamentary committee that a meeting between Chidambaram and Raja had taken place on May 29, 2008, and while there were no minutes of this meeting, an agreed position was reported to the Prime Minister later.

FE sought information from the finance ministry on the following points under RTI: Between 1998 and 2004, how many times did finance ministers meet other ministers on a one-to-one basis; and were minutes of those meetings recorded The reply: Such information is neither compiled nor available in this department.

Ever since the DEA deposition, the BJP had been alleging that during his May 29, 2008, meeting with Raja, an attempt was made by Chidambaram to gloss over the divergent opinions, cover up disregard of rules, regulations and procedures on the issue of allocation of 2G spectrum licences. It had even demanded a focused inquiry into absence of the minutes and argued that nothing short of an explanation from the Prime Minister can "fill this void in documentary evidence".

BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad made light of the reply.

Prasad,who interestingly spoke on Thursday again at a media briefing about the absence of records, said: There was no need for maintaining records of casual meetings, but the meeting on 2G spectrum allocation was not just a routine one.

Officials were being overruled and a decision was taken against preferring market mechanism. It was not an ordinary meeting. I know finance ministers routinely meet other ministers on a whole range of issues. From planning to the larger issue of spending and allocations. But a meeting on spectrum pricing and licence allocation was not a routine meeting, he told The Indian Express.

Prasad pointed out that there was a Cabinet decision during the NDA regime in 2003 stipulating that spectrum allocation and its pricing hence forth shall be done by the telecom ministry in consultation with the finance ministry.

Spectrum is an important thing and there was a Cabinet decision spelling out the finance ministrys role clearly. That is the catchword. The obligation was imposed by the highest body the Cabinet, he said.

Government sources countered Prasads claim by arguing that the finance minister during the NDA regime also took decisions relating to 2G spectrum allocation. However, no minutes were kept of Jaswant Singhs meetings with other relevant ministers, even though the CBI yesterday told the supreme court it will speak to the ex finance minister Jaswant Singh about decisions regarding the 2G spectrum allocation.