Interestingly, having sent a pointed and sternly worded communication to A Raja on November 2, 2007 in which he categorically instructed the minister to "let me know of the position before you take any further action in this regard", the PM after a series of detailed correspondence on the issue (copies of which can be read here), appears to have toned down his posture by January 3, 2008 through a one sentence acknowledgement of receipt of a
detailed rebuttal of all charges by A Raja, without any reference to his earlier injunction that "urgent consideration should be given to the issues being raised by various concerned parties including telecom sector companies and sections of the media".
PMO may have some explanation to do in this regard.
Also interesting is the fact that all through the brewing controversy which has now erupted in the sacking of A Raja, almost every authority and interested party were closely involved in serious wrangling on key issues relating to allocation of spectrum, procedures for issue of licenses, dual technology and number portability, etc.
Apart from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Telecom Engineering Centre, and the law and justice ministry, other players who were deeply involved in pro-active lobbying and recommendations were the Cellular Operators Association of India and a specially convened Group of Ministers and even the ministries of defence and external affairs.
The Solicitor General of India had also been periodically and frequently approached and so to was the Delhi high court and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal before which the COAI and other players filed petitions at various times.
In addition a committee had been constituted under the chairmanship of the additional secretary DoT with two professors from IIT Kanpur and IIT Chennai, with specialisation in radio frequency, had also submitted a report on the contentious issue of subscriber based criteria for additional spectrum to existing operators.
In other words a view is emerging that even assuming that minister A Raja is guilty as charged for corruption and alleged kickbacks, numerous other entitites were involved in trying to influence the decision making process for finalising the 2G spectrum allocation policy.
A memo issued by the ministry of law and justice and signed by the then law secretary T K Vishwanathan (who is now the secretary general of the Lok Sabha) on November 1, 2007, goes so far as to say that the department of telecommunications had outlined four alternatives to deal with the 575 applicants for the grant of unified access service licenses and that the administrative ministry had sought the views of the attorney general/solicitor general, but in the view of the department of legal affairs "the questions posed for the opinion of attorney general /solicitor general appear to be too broad and the issue of disposal of the applications appears to be mixed up with the allotment of spectrum".
Vishwanathan recommended that the issues "will have to be refined further" before seeking the views of the legal experts.
In the same memo there are two handwritten notations -- one by then Union Law Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj himself stating: "I agree. In view of the importance of the case and various options indicated in the statement of the case it is necessary that the whole issue is first considered by an Empowered Group of Ministers and in that process the legal opinion of AG can be obtained".
Below the minister's remarks on the same page of the document, Law Secretary Vishwanathan has concurred with the minister's instructions.
What seems to have raised the heckles of the law ministry and powerful sections of the bureaucracy against A Raja is that the very next day on November 2, 2007, in his communication to the prime minister the telecom minister peremptorily rejected Bhardwaj's suggestion by stating "the ministry of law and justice instead of examining the legal tenability of these alternative procedures suggested referring the matter of an empowered group of ministers. Since generally new policy decisions of a department or inter-departmental issues are referred to GOMs and needless to say that the present issue relates to procedures, the suggestion of law ministry is totally out of context."
Raja goes on to categorically inform the prime minister that "the department of telecom has decided to continue with the existing policy of first come first serve for processing of applications
as the department is not deviating from the existing procedure. I hope this will satisfy the industry."
Peculiarly all these communications took place within a span of 48 hours even to the extent that the letter written by the prime minister to Raja (with a five point annexure attached) was also dated November 2, 2007 and in fact seems to have been dispatched before he received Raja's letter.
So much so that Raja felt compelled to reply to the PM's letter the very same day specifically referring to the fact that "I have already written to you earlier today clarifying the position on processing of large number of applications received for fresh licenses".
He goes on to assert, "I would like to inform you there was and is no single deviation or departure in the rules and procedures contemplated in all the decisions taken by my ministry and as such full transparency is being maintained by my ministry and I further assure you the same in future also."
This second letter to the prime minister running into 3 pages does not seem to have evoked any response from the prime minister whereas Raja sent another letter on November 26, 2007 with detailed annexures claiming that all his decisions are "intended to give lower tariff to the consumer and to bring higher tele-density in the country more specifically in the rural areas".
At the height of the present controversy this claim of benefit to the consumers continues to be Raja's main defence against the accusations
being leveled against him.
Judging by the response of the PM on January 3, 2008, Dr Manmohan Singh seems to have opted to acknowledge receipt of this communication without any comment, in sharp contrast to his stern letter two months earlier.
There is no doubt PM Sngh will have to explain why no action had been taken against the minister for so long. The Supreme Court has asked the PM to reply on this point, which is being seen as a huge embarrassment to both the government and the Congress party.