Friday, April 19, 2013

But who asked for the JPC???? BJP cannot mock the findings….

The BJP as expected has “rejected” the JPC report, finding its conclusions inconvenient. After all, the report attempts to turn the tables on the party by claiming that a Rs 40000 crore loss was incurred by the Vajpayee government. Inconvenient or otherwise, what right does the BJP have to question the report of a committee that it itself demanded be set up (the PAC headed by a BJP leader could well have reviewed the CAG report), knowing fully well that the committee would have a majority of ruling party members and would be headed by a Congress MP? Having made this demand, how can the BJP disown its report? This technicality aside, lets look at what the report says.

First, the report says that the government acknowledges that it decided to continue with the cheap spectrum policy after due consideration and deliberation. This decision was not taken by Raja alone. But by the cabinet, including the PM and FM. Clearly, the cabinet was keen to continue with the cheap telecom policy so as to complete the job (of increasing tele-density) that was not even a quarter done then. In 2004, the number of subscribers was not even 250 million. Today, that number has crossed 900 million, thanks in large measure to the cheap spectrum. The government was right in its decision. So is Raja right in claiming that he consulted the PM? Of course he is. The PM is not running away from this decision of his government. In fact it is openly embracing it.

What Raja however did not keep anyone informed (leave alone the PM) was what he would do AFTER the policy was cleared by the cabinet. That he would tweak a vital clause in the way the policy was implemented – from forming a queue based on who applied first, to one based on who paid first. This small, yet monumental change, allowed a few of Raja’s favorites to jump the queue. This is why some of them were ready with their Demand Drafts even within only a few hours after the announcement. The deadline itself had been advanced by a few days to keep some others out.

Did Raja need to go back to the cabinet for these misdeeds of his? Of course not. The cabinet does not get involved in nitty gritties. The minister kept his secretary (who is also in the dock) in the loop, prepared a press release to give effect to his devious scheme, consulted the attorney general (as a matter of protocol) with a draft of a “clean” press release, and then proceeded to make changes in it without informing anyone. All along, he kept re-assuring the PM that he was doing everything correctly. This was clearly the act of a minister who was out to beat the system. For this, Raja may have been rewarded with a Rs 200 crore gratification. The point here is whether Raja’s claim about keeping the PM informed is right or wrong. It appears he is right to the extent that the PM took the final call on the policy; but he is dead wrong when he says he kept the PM informed about his corrupt practices.

A connected point is about the government “ignoring” the nay sayers in the government before taking the decision to continue with the NDA policy. Well, in a democracy like ours, there are always some or the other naysayers. In fact, such naysayers add to the quality of the discussion by presenting opposing viewpoints. But this does not mean that they cannot be ruled against. In this case also, it appears that the government considered their viewpoints and decided to go with the policy in spite of their views. The government rejected their view that expensive spectrum would not translate into higher end-user prices. The government was right. Just look at 3G prices. Thanks to hugely expensive spectrum, those prices are unaffordable. And 3G penetration is far from what was projected. What’s so despicable about the government rejecting the views of some people? The political authority (read minister, or GoM, or cabinet as the case may be) has to choose between alternate viewpoints. Just as a matter of debate, had the government chosen to go with auctions, there would have been other naysayers who would have argued that the policy was wrong. So what should the government have done? Stayed in limbo????

The BJP has no grounds to stand on. It has no right to question the UPA government’s decision to continue with cheap spectrum. It has no right to question the PM’s and FM’s decisions, even though it may disagree with them. No one – including the CAG – can question the policies of the government, unless they are ultra vires the constitution. The CAG is presently led by a politically motivated person, one who allegedly discusses his draft reports (takes guidance even, maybe) with the PAC chairman (and senior BJP leader) before releasing them. This vastly discredited finance expert doesn’t even understand what “time value of money” is. This Harvard educated, yet literally illiterate accountant had also once opined that S-band spectrum should be priced the same way as 3G, claiming a Rs 2 lac crore loss, only to quickly withdraw it later. I count the present CAG in the pack of opposition leaders.

It’s time the government stuck its neck out, and reverted back to the FCFS system. Or another form of “administered allocation” which is not auctions based but still improves transparency. That, and only that, will tell the world that the government stands by its earlier policy. The present policy of auctions in any case is not helping anyone. The industry is in a tailspin. The BJP and CAG are the ones responsible for this mess. Their opportunistic politicking created an impression of massive corruption, leading to an about-turn in policy. By equating the “notional loss” suffered by the government to “corruption”, the opposition even put the government into a policy paralysis. These were deft political moves, and the BJP gained from them. How can it now run away from taking responsibility for the condition the industry finds itself in?

The real truth is that the BJP simply cannot question the JPC’s report. It is itself responsible for the existence of this JPC. It also has no basis to question the government’s policy; something that is its constitutional right. That is why it is resorting to cheap sound bytes – that the report was released to the media before it reached the members (some breach of Parliamentary propriety – how strange for a party that doesn’t even believe in the institution called Parliament). Such an opposition is best ignored….

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