PAC-JPC tussle over 2G probe has just begun
Corporate lobbyist Nira Radia appeared in no mood to co-operate with the Public Accounts Committee when she appeared before them for questioning on the 2G scam on Monday morning as her answers were 'evasive' and 'clever,' preferring to use the non-descript phrase, "I do not remember" in reply to most of the questions.
PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi was not only angry, he even warned her that the committee can move privilege against her if she does not co-operate.
She may even be summoned again before the PAC, a decision which the committee will take later.
In sharp contrast, the suave and sophisticated Ratan Tata was 'very transparent,' 'candid' and 'forthcoming' when he was called by the PAC in the afternoon session, according to the assessment of Joshi who is currently questioning key players in the 2G spectrum scam.
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Image: PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi
'Evasive Radia didn't want to give out straight facts'
While the deliberations of the PAC are meant to be confidential, Joshi appears to be so peeved by Radia that he informed the media in the evening press briefing that Radia 'didn't want to give out straight facts.'
Radia told the committee that some of the tapes were doctored and on persistent questioning agreed to give the committee a list of those tapes which were genuine and which were doctored.
Joshi said the committee will take a call on whether she should be summoned again. She is learnt to have argued before the committee that there was nothing wrong in talking to journalists, politicians, industrialists and bureaucrats as that was part of her job as a corporate lobbyist.
Image: Corporate lobbyist Niira Radia
'PAC intruding into the domain of JPC'
It is interesting that Radia had to wait a full hour before being called into the meeting by the committee. The delay was due to the bitter quarrel raging within the committee as two Congress members K S Rao and Arun Kumar objected to the manner in which the PAC was handling the investigation into the 2G spectrum issue.
They said the chairman was intruding into the domain of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, an issue which the JPC chairman P C Chacko has taken to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
With Joshi going full steam in summoning industrialists, journalists and others, Chacko has issued a statement asking the PAC to withdraw from the 2G probe.
While parliamentary committees normally work in a harmonious atmosphere, Murli Manmohan Joshi was so incensed with the comments of the Congress members that he asked them 'why they were acting like Congressmen.'
Both Rao and Kumar have given in writing that they were opposed to this kind of investigation and asked that their dissent should be registered.
They said the PAC was encroaching into the JPC's jurisdiction. The meeting, however, went on as both Radia and Tata were called and questioned in the two sessions of the committee's hearings.
Image: JPC chairman P C Chacko
Radia denies links with A Raja
The PAC will on Tuesday question Reliance Communications chairman Anil Ambani, Etisalat DB Telecom CEO Atul Jham, S-Tel CEO Shamik Das and Unitech Wireless Managing Director Sigve Brekke.
It will also call journalists whose names figured in the Radia tapes. P C Chako too has complained to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar against this process and she is expected to give her ruling soon.
Responding to questions, Joshi said, "Our experience was that Radia was not giving out information clearly. She was evasive and not in a mood to reveal simple facts. She gave irrelevant answers, confronted members, feigned ignorance and forgetfulness and even said some parts of the tapes were doctored. We have asked her to give a list of tapes which she thinks are correct. We will decide the next course of action after examining that."
When told that the Radia had claimed she fully cooperated with the PAC, Joshi said, "What else she would say? She cannot declare non-cooperation. But we felt she was not willing to reveal the truth, she was evasive."
Sources said Radia argued that talking to all kinds of people was her job and no one should find fault with that. She ridiculed the members for asking if she influenced Cabinet formation, retorting, "How can I?"
She also emphatically denied having any links with former Telecom minister A Raja.
Image: Former Telecom Minister A Raja
'Tata was transparent'
Joshi, however, had a word of praise for Tata, saying, "He was transparent, spoke with clarity and gave detailed replies."
Tata also talked of market compulsions, problems his company faced and explained why he took certain decisions.
Joshi said, "Certain things he didn't remember but he promised to send those in writing." Asked if he too disputed the authenticity of the tapes, Joshi said, "No, he said the voice was his and owned up the conversation. He also admitted to have written a letter to (Tamil Nadu CM) Karunanidhi."
Joshi revealed that Tata confessed he was nervous before coming to the committee but "his apprehensions proved misplaced as the discussions were constructive and very professional."
Tata also said he was happy to see nobody was trying to intimidate him. Asked if Tata won his heart and was he satisfied, Joshi said, "There is no question of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. We have to do an investigation. If somebody is candid, that does not mean his information will be corroborated by the available evidence."
Interestingly, it is learnt that Ratan Tata told the committee that the telecom policy did not result in any revenue loss for the nation, a line of thinking which has earlier been articulated by the government also.
When he emerged from the meeting, Ratan Tata was surrounded by his men who deftly escorted him into the car, without giving the media a chance to speak to him or get any answers from him.
In contrast Radia told the media that she had fully co-operated with the committee, a claim which Murli Manohar Joshi has been quick to debunk.
It seems the tussle between JPC and PAC on 2G scam has just begun.
Image: Ratan Tata