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Ministers, secretaries hand-in-glove: Panel

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The one-member , which was made public in its entirety today, has put in the dock communications ministers and key bureaucrats in the department of telecom () since 2001.

The panel, which was set up by Communications Minister to identify lapses in procedures at the ministry and those responsible, has directly or indirectly implicated over 40 officials. They include former communications minister , who was forced to resign after the broke out, as well as Arun Shourie and the late Pramod Mahajan, who were at the helm of affairs at the ministry from 2001 to 2004 under the .

Also identified were telecom secretaries cutting across administrations, including Shyamal Ghosh, D S Mathur, Vinod Vaish and S Behuria, for failing to adhere to procedures and Cabinet decisions in the issue of licences and spectrum for 2G services. Sibal said the report would now be sent to , which is investigating the 2G scam.

The report throws light on how Raja and Behuria used a letter written to Prime Minister as the basis to dramatically change 2G licensing policy for new operators. Raja is already being investigated to ascertain whether he suddenly changed the procedure to favour certain companies.

The report said Shourie and Vaish deviated from the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India () given in October 2003, which had suggested multi-stage bidding for new 2G licences. The decision was endorsed by the Cabinet the same year. Shourie has already publicly rubbished the findings of the Patil panel report, saying he is ready to be questioned by CBI.

The report says Vaish appears to have sought an opinion from the chairman of Trai on some aspect of pricing the licence over the phone, instead of in writing.

A letter written on November 4, 2003, by the Trai chairman was interpreted by DoT as a change in policy and it decided on November 24 that 2G licensees would pay the same fee as that by fourth operators in 2001 and that licences would be issued on a first-come-first-served basis.

The report adds that the new procedure was “contrary to the decision of the Union Cabinet, which had approved Trai recommendations of October 2003, before following such procedure (the) recommendations of Trai were not obtained and the matter was not placed before the Telecom Commission”.

However, based on this decision, DoT decided to issue a letter of intent to Tata Teleservices and Bharti Cellular. Having done so, the recommendations of Trai were placed before DoT for formal acceptance and were endorsed by both Vaish and Shourie in December 2003. The report observes that “having already taken a decision and implemented it, subsequent acceptance of recommendations of Trai frustrates the very purpose of requiring the seeking of recommendation and is against the principals underlying the Trai Act”.

D S Mathur has also been pulled up on some counts. The report says that not having a cap on the number of 2G operators, recommended by Trai, was not put up before the full Telecom Commission, and members were given only one day to attend (instead of seven). The report states that “Mathur ought to have ensured compliance with the requirements.”

The report also pulls up Shyamal Ghosh and the late Pramod Mahajan for allotting additional spectrum in February 2002 beyond 6.2 MHz based on a unilateral claim made by an operator without verification of its actual subscriber base. This policy, the committee says, was based on a note endorsed by Ghosh and the approval of the minister. Ghosh also come under the scanner for giving basic service licensees an extension in deadline for compliance with the terms in the LoI and a note to allow that was cleared by him.

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