The divide within the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probing the 2G spectrum scam looks set to deepen when it comes to the matter over the conclusions of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai.
Members of the ruling party disagree with the top auditor’s quantum of Rs 1.76 lakh-crore loss and intend to grill him further, but BJP MPs in the panel defend Rai’s report.
Congress members in the parliamentary panel say the auditor “exceeded his brief” when he calculated the presumptive loss over the 2008 wavelength allotment to telecom companies. The BJP, instead, views it as an attempt to undermine the institution of the CAG. Rai will be deposing before the JPC for a second time on December 19.
Significantly, when Rai deposed before the JPC chaired by Kerala’s P C Chacko on September 16, there were considerable fireworks. The CAG had defended the CAG estimate and dismissed outright the contrarian view of R P Singh, a former director general of audit, post and telecommunication, that the presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore was only a “mathematical guess”. As per the draft report that Singh prepared, the loss figure was Rs 2,645 crore.
The CAG subsequently decided to go ahead and calculate the presumptive loss.
Congress member Manish Tewari had grilled Rai for an hour on the presumptive loss of the CAG. This time around, Congress members in the JPC are clear that they will question Rai on the legal basis for his calculating “presumptive loss”.
A Congress MP recalls that even senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh had questioned Rai when he first made a presentation before the committee. “Jaswant Singh had asked him, ‘I have heard of auditing of accounts, are you auditing policy?’ That’s exactly what we are saying: the CAG exceeded his brief,” he told Business Standard.
According to Congress members, the 2G spectrum pricing was done on the basis of 2001 prices. All successive governments had issued licences based on this price, they argue. “So, there was no change in policy. In that case, how can the CAG estimate the possible price in the event of auctioning,” questions a Congress leader who is a member of the parliamentary committee.
A BJP member, commenting on the functioning of the JPC, says there is a definite move to undermine the office of the CAG, especially on the Rs 1.76 lakh-crore given in the report. “The first attempt to raise doubts about the report happened at the PAC (public accounts committee) at the time of submission of report. It’s now that doubts are being raised on the extent of loss.”
A senior Congress leader states that while Rai was questioned on the legal basis of his estimates, the auditor had justified it by citing the Income-Tax Act of 1961, which has a practice of calculating presumptive loss. “Detailed queries from the JPC to the I-T department, have ascertained that there is no such practice,” says the Congress leader
A senior BJP member says, “The main objective of JPC is not simply calculating the figure of loss. It is also about the steps taken by the telecom ministry, finance ministry and the entire government machinery which allowed such a huge scam to happen.”