Sibal moves motion for JPC in Rajya Sabha

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NEW DELHI - Communications Minister Kapil Sibal Tuesday defended the government and focussed on the flawed policies framed under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as he moved a motion in the Rajya Sabha to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G spectrum scam.

“A joint committee of the two houses consisting of 30 members, 20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha, be constituted to examine policy prescriptions and their interpretation thereafter by successive governments, including decisions of the union cabinet and the consequences thereof, in the allocation and pricing of telecom licenses and spectrum from 1998 to 2009,” Sibal said while moving the motion.

“Why it refers to 1998 is because this is when the whole policy started,” Sibal said.

The minister said that the initial auctioning led to high rates, increasing pressure on consumers, “so the NDA government decided to go for revenue sharing”.

Coming out in defence of former communications minister A. Raja, Sibal said that different policies were adopted in different countries for giving away the spectrum. However no minister was sent to jail anywhere.

“In Finland, 3G spectrum was auctioned for free, Sweden took a token price of $11,020 for the 3G spectrum. In US, the auction had to cancelled as people overbid; but no one sent a minister to jail saying that the method earned less that the revenue it was supposed to get,” he said.

Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley refused to accept the argument, saying Raja cannot be defended like this.

“The telecom industry saw fixing of appointment of ministers and officials and the role of lobbies becoming visible. All this should be probed,” Jaitley said.

Sibal also defended his earlier statement of the first-come-first-served method causing zero loss.

“Once there was first-come-first-served policy for 2G spectrum, you can not auction. Hence there is no comparison and no loss,” he said.

The minister also reiterated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stand, saying the increase in tele-density and growth of telecom should not be ignored in the shade of this alleged scam.

However, taking strong exception to the points made by Sibal, Jaitley said that the giving of 2G spectrum was against the telecom watchdog, Telcom Regulatory Authority of India’s recommendations, which clearly stated that the prices for the spectrum should not be decided based on 2001 prices.

“The dates for the first-come-first-served were changed at the last moment which reduced the number of applicants from 575 who were eligible to 232. Of these, 122 circles had to be allocated. But instead of making the date of application the basis, the date of submitting the draft was made the basis,” he said.

The formation of the JPC, the fifth so far, is the government’s attempt to buy peace and let the crucial budget session of parliament function smoothly, unlike the winter session that was crippled by the opposition demands for a JPC.

It comes in the wake of opposition pressure for a parliamentary panel to investigate how second generation telephony spectrum licences were sold to telecom firms allegedly at throwaway prices that, according to the government auditor, caused a notional loss of Rs.1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer.

The report of the committee is to be tabled in the parliament by the end of monsoon session in late August.

The Congress has three out of the 10 members from Rajya Sabha in the JPC, while in Lok Sabha it has eight of the 20, taking it to 11 out of 30. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has eight - two members from the upper house and six from the lower house.

P.J. Kurien, Jayanthi Natarajan and Praveen Rashtrapal (Congress), Tiruchi Siva (DMK), Yogendra P. Trivedi (Nationalist Congress Party), S.S. Ahluwalia and Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP), Ramchandra Prasad Singh (Janata Dal-United), Satish Chandra Misra (Bahujan Samaj Party) and Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India-Marxist) are the upper house members in the JPC.

The Lok Sabha nominated 20 members to the committee Thursday. They are V. Kishore Chandra Deo, Paban Singh Ghatowar, Jai Prakash Agarwal, Deepender Singh Hooda, P.C. Chacko, Manish Tewari, Nirmal Khatri, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Congress), T.R. Baalu (DMK), Kalyan Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Harin Pathak, Gopinath Munde (BJP), Sharad Yadav (JD-U), Dara Singh Chauhan (BSP), Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India), Arjun Charan Sethi (Biju Janata Dal) and M. Thambidurai (AIADMK).

A member from the committee will now be nominated as the chairperson by the Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. Sources says Kerala MP Chacko is likely to be named the chairperson.

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