Pranabda writes a 4 page Demi-official (D.O.) letter to PM. Nothing wrong with that. But why does he copy the secret communication between FM and PM to some one outside the Government? To SoniaG.
Is the the super PM or what? She has not taken a oath of allegiance and does not hold any position in the state’s executive branch. If as Pranabda claims that the communication between an FM and a PM is privileged, why does he breach the privilege by copying the communication to SoniaG, a private person, outside of the executive branch of the state estate?
Pranabda has committed a serious breach of executive propriety. He should resign if one is to follow the bureaucratic niceties laid out by Shri BS Raghavan.
- THURSDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2011 17:41
- IANS | NEW DELHI
The Congress-led government on Thursday sought to bury a flaming row over a finance ministry note that linked Home Minister P. Chidambaram to the 2G scandal, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee denying the note reflected his views on the 2008 spectrum allocation.
In a bid to show that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was united, Mukherjee read out a prepared statement outside his North Block office. He was flanked by a grave-looking Chidambaram and cabinet ministers Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal.
But a dissatisfied Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rubbished the show of unity, and demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should probe Chidambaram.
Mukherjee’s statement came on another day of hectic parleys within the Congress. He met Congress president Sonia Gandhi along with Ahmed Patel as well as A.K. Antony. He then met Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh for some 25 minutes in the company of Chidambaram, indicating a truce was on way.
“Apart from the factual background (on spectrum allocation), the paper (note) contains certain inferences and interpretations which do not reflect my views,” said Mukherjee, the most senior minister and also a Congress party veteran.
The note sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) by his ministry in March suggested that the spectrum allocation could have been auctioned had Chidambaram, as the then finance minister, insisted.
Since the note became public, Chidambaram came under attack for alleged links with the spectrum scandal that has landed a former cabinet minister and several others in prison. The opposition asked him to quit.
In a related development, the CBI gave a clean chit to Chidambaram during a hearing of the 2G spectrum case in the Supreme Court.
After Mukherjee spoke, the home minister said he was happy with the statement read out by his “senior and distinguished colleague”. He added that the “matter was closed” for the government.
In his statement, Mukherjee said the government had sought to prepare “a harmonized note based on facts … for use by various representatives of the government.
“A group of officers prepared an inter-ministerial background paper which was sent to PMO on March 25,” he said.
He said the inferences in the note — which is what caused the problems for Chidambaram and the government — did not have his approval.
Mukherjee had until now taken no such categorical stand. He had met Manmohan Singh once in New York and Sonia Gandhi twice but did not divulge the details of their discussions.
The prime minister had already declared that he stood by Chidambaram.
Mukherjee also linked 2G spectrum allocation in 2008 to the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The policy of the government in 2007-08 was continuation of the policy adopted in October 2003 and as reiterated by the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India,” he said.
BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad argued that Mukherjee’s statement only made the matters worse for the government.
In a remark apparently aimed at Chidambaram, he added: “It is not your internal matter or ego battle to be settled. You are accused, your role needs to be investigated.”
Opp unconvinced, SC to take final call on PC’s role on October 10
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday tried to put an end to the raging controversy triggered by an inter-ministerial note which questioned the role of the latter in not preventing the 2G scam. The March 25, 2011 note was prepared by the Finance Ministry in consultation with the PMO, and the Cabinet Secretariat and ‘seen’ by Mukherjee.
Flanked by Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, the warring Ministers — Mukherjee and Chidambaram — appeared together in public after they had several rounds of talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the course of the day.
Sources said that both the PM and Sonia had conveyed to them the need to resolve their differences because it had sent out a wrong message about the Government among the public and given an opportunity to the Opposition to target the entire UPA Government.
Pranab made a statement before the media to give a semblance of unity and to convey the message that curtains had finally been drawn after a week of controversy which raged with each passing day. But the matter may not end here. Chidambaram’s problem, which started with the Finance Ministry’s note submitted to the PMO and presented before the Supreme Court by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy last week, may worsen if the Supreme Court takes cognisance of it when the hearing resumes on October 10.
In his statement, Pranab first tried to put the onus on his Ministry’s officials. “A number of stories on 2G spectrum had appeared in the media in January 2011. A view was taken that a harmonised note based on facts should be produced for use by various representatives of the Government. A group of officers prepared an inter-ministerial background paper, which was sent to the PMO on 25th March 2011,” he said.
The Finance Minister then tried to distance himself from the note when he said, “Apart from the factual background, the paper contains certain inferences and interpretations which do not reflect my views.”
Finally, Mukherjee sought to give a clean chit to Chidambaram and blame the previous NDA Government for the 2G policy which has seen former Telecom Minister A Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi, senior officials and private operators behind bars.
“The policy of the Government in 2007-2008 was continuation of the policy adopted in October 2003 and was reiterated by TRAI,” he said in his statement.
This followed a one-liner from Chidambaram who expressed satisfaction over Mukherjee’s statement. “I accept the statement and as far as all of us in the Government is concerned, the matter is closed,” he said.
Following this, the PM met Sonia at her residence in the evening to apprise her of the developments which unfolded for over a week. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes.
Earlier in the day, Sonia held hectic consultations first with her political secretary Ahmed Patel and Defence Minister AK Antony and then with Mukherjee to resolve the issue. This followed a joint meeting of Mukherjee and Chidambaram with the PM after he returned from the quake-ravaged Sikkim. This was the first face-to-face meeting between the two senior Ministers ever since the row broke out.
While Chidambaram so far was playing a victim, Mukherjee too had his grievances to air before both Sonia and the PM. “Mukherjee took the stand that he was unnecessarily being projected as the one who was responsible for the latest controversy as he was forced to reschedule his visit on being summoned by the PM in the US last week,” said highly-placed sources.
Both Mukherjee and Chidambaram initially refused to bury the hatchet. While Mukherjee refused to withdraw from his position as stated in the note, Chidambaram kept blaming him for the ‘leak’, source said.
Khurshid and Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy met Chidambaram before the Home Minister met Sonia in the day. “All is well. Don’t worry,” Khurshid said after their 20-minute meeting with Chidambaram.
Explanation or exercise in self-delusion?
B. S. RAGHAVAN
If indeed the attachment to the Office Memorandum is an inter-Ministerial background paper, it ought to have been distributed to all the participants, whereas the OM and its enclosure were clearly sent only to the PMO.
From reports published or telecast in all sections of the print and electronic media, it would seem that the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, has sent a detailed four-page note to the UPA Chairperson and Congress President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, seeking to explain the character and complexion of the now famous Office Memorandum (OM) of March 25, with which the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) of the Ministry of Finance (MoF), had enclosed for the information of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) “a copy of the basic facts on allocation and pricing of 2G spectrum”.
Although the full and authentic text of Mr Mukherjee’s explanatory letter is yet to be made public, I am taking as reliable the almost identical versions, attributed to “official” sources, that have appeared in the media, paraphrasing its contents.
The first significant point to note is that it does not disown the fateful OM nor deny its contents. Which means that even after all the controversy the OM has generated on the role played, and the stand taken, by Mr P. Chidambaram, who was Finance Minister during the period covered by it, Mr Mukherjee does not consider it necessary either to take back or tone down portions of the narrative which seemingly put a question mark on the manner of handling the issue by Mr Chidambaram.
LEFT IN THE LIMBO
Mr Mukherjee has not disagreed, for instance, with the tell-tale comment at the heart of the imbroglio, as recorded by the OM, that “in case the MoF had stuck to the stand of auctioning the spectrum”, it was possible to have the licences cancelled by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), “by invoking clause 5.1 of the UAS (Unified Access Service), providing for modification at any time of the terms and conditions of the licence if, in the opinion of the Licensor, it is necessary or expedient to do so in public interest or in the interest of security of state or for the proper conduct of the telegraphs”.
In fact, the “chronology of basic facts” records a number of instances where the actions proposed by top MoF/DEA officials to safeguard the interest of the Government and avert the drain on public exchequer were left in the limbo without being followed up.
The more crucial of them that fell by the wayside were: The directive of the Cabinet at its October 31, 2003 meeting to MoF and DoT to jointly finalise the spectrum pricing formula; the suggestion that spectrum pricing should be included as a term of reference for the Group of Ministers (not doing so, as the enclosure to the OM says, precluded the role of MoF); and the DEA’s objection to the grant of cross-over licences by DEA in 2001 at rates determined in 2001.
Coincidentally or otherwise, all these omissions took place after the Finance Minister and Telecommunications Ministers had mutually agreed on the methodology followed by DoT, with the Finance Minister expressing his readiness not to revisit “the current regimes for entry fee or revenue shares” and to treat all 4.4 MHz spectrum allocations made in the past by Mr Raja as “a closed chapter”.
Mr Mukherjee’s latest explanatory note, as the “official” sources would have it, does not question or rebut any of these impressions. So, for all the effort made by the principal dramatis personae — Mr Mukherjee and Mr Chidambaram — to keep up appearances, the damage done by the OM remains.
In the explanatory note, Mr Mukherjee reportedly takes the stand that the “chronology of basic facts” attached to the OM of March 25, 2011, was actually “an inter-Ministerial background paper, prepared with the help of several departments, to ensure that different government representatives, summoned to give evidence on the 2G spectrum allocation issue, would adopt a common position”.
Further, since the Cabinet Secretariat, the PMO, Ministries of Finance, Telecommunications and Law had all participated at different stages of its preparation, it was not a note emanating from the Finance Ministry, which only finalised it after receiving inputs from all those departments. And for all these reasons, it could not be used as evidence in a court of law.
Each one of these arguments represents breath-taking quantum leaps in prevarication. If it is an inter-Ministerial background paper, that fact, as also the names of the Ministries/Departments participating in the exercise and their having seen it and agreeing to its issue ought to have been mentioned on the body of the OM. Secondly, an inter-Ministerial paper is to be distributed to all the participants for their record, whereas the OM and its enclosure were clearly sent only to the PMO.
Actually, calling it an inter-Ministerial paper only makes matters worse for Mr Chidambaram! It implies that, in undertaking their retrospective review of the events during his time, all the participant Ministries/Departments are united in forming the adverse opinions briefly mentioned earlier in this column and that, together, they represent their “common position”.
Finally, there can be nothing more untenable than the observation that it cannot be used as evidence in a court of law. Under the Evidence Act, any official document which throws light on the facts relevant to a case is admissible, and this paper is explicitly titled “Chronology of basic facts related to allocation and pricing of 2G spectrum”.
Its evidentiary value is indisputable in a case in which such allocation and pricing have become matters of criminal investigation and trial.
Subtleties of bureaucratic practices
B. S. RAGHAVAN
The Office Memorandum (OM) No.F.No.3/11/2011—Inf(Part) dated March 25, 2011 of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Ministry of Finance, sent under the signature of Dr P. G. S. Rao, Deputy Director, Infrastructure & Investment Division of the DEA to Ms Vini Mahajan, Joint Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), says that it is enclosing “a copy of the basic facts prepared on the allocation and pricing of 2G spectrum”.
Some sections of the media, including The Hindu, have erroneously stated that “The covering letter to Mr Rao’s note says: “Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee approved the note after personally inspecting the 11-page document.”
The covering letter says no such thing. It only states that “This has been seen by the Finance Minister.” In this column, I shall not go into the merits of the contents of the enclosure which purports to give a “chronology of basic facts”.
Nor will it be my effort to find answers to the questions which had wormed their way into the lexicon of every commentator or investigator after the Watergate scandal: Where is the smoking gun and who was found to be holding it? Who knew what, and how much, and when?
The matter is in the safe and competent hands of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, and their eagerly awaited findings will no doubt bring a lot of clarity to the general public’s understanding of the true state of affairs. At this stage, I am only sharing with readers my knowledge of the subtleties and intricacies of bureaucratic usages and practices.
I find it necessary to do so as fair-mindedly and dispassionately as I can, because in all my nearly six decades of having served as a bureaucrat and dealt with bureaucracies both in India and abroad, I have never seen more heat generated and a more exhaustive exegesis of a text undertaken than in the case of this OM and its enclosure. Particularly, the word “seen” has been subjected to minute scrutiny as to its precise connotation.
SOLEMN AND WEIGHTY
First, an Office Memorandum, in official parlance, is taken to be a solemn and weighty document carrying with it the authoritative stamp of the Department or Ministry issuing it. It is not to be mistaken for a mere note of the kind confined to files or handed by officials to each other by way of interpreting, clarifying, explaining or elaborating an issue.
The person signing it, whether with or without its being seen by his superiors, does so on behalf of the Ministry/Department concerned, regardless of whatever rank, title or designation is held by him. So long as the OM is reflective of the settled stand of the Ministry, the signatory can be an Under-Secretary or sometimes even a Section Officer.
Thus, the OM on spectrum pricing, even without an express reference to the Minister having seen it, is to be viewed as an authoritative exposition of the Ministry’s perspective on various stages of dealing with the issue by Ministries, Departments or agencies involved.
In this case, the official has taken the additional precaution of adding that the OM has been seen by the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee. No official of a Ministry, however high, will dare to make such a categorical statement without its being actually shown to the Minister with a clear indication of the office (PMO) to which it was being sent and with an explicit mention of the fact of the Minister having seen it on the body of the OM
It is always open to the Minister to stop its dispatch if he did not agree with it. The unambiguous meaning of his permitting its issue is that he has approved its contents. This is a principle that harks back to British days and is followed in every well-oiled bureaucracy even today.
Hence, any attempt on the part of Mr Mukherjee or the Government to quibble their way out of a centuries-old universally-accepted practice will deal a mortal blow to the harmonious relations based on trust and confidence that should prevail between Ministers and civil servants.