Civil society points finger at PM in 2G scandal
By Annie Banerji
He can run, but he definitely cannot hide. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to release information regarding correspondence between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former telecom minister A Raja related to the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, which caused a loss of up to $39 billion to the national exchequer, in response to an applicant under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The prime minister has seen his popularity slump since he first came to power in 2004 with a downpour of high-profile corruption scandals, paralysed policymaking and a slow paced economy due to high inflation and interest rates. He finds himself under the scrutiny of not only opposition parties, but also civil society.
A civil society movement against corruption headed by popular Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare received nationwide support in April proving to the government that the masses do not treat corruption with nonchalance.
Now, the government is trying to avoid a repeat of April’s anti-graft protests by talking to a panel of civil society activists, including Hazare, who had forced it to fast-track a decades-old proposition for an independent ombudsman to investigate graft cases in high places. But the negotiations have seen divergent views emerge over the contents of the legislation, most importantly whether the prime minister should be investigated by the ombudsman.
Keeping this in view, the prime minister’s address to electronic media editors in February regarding his exchanges with A. Raja, the prime accused in the 2G scandal, comes to light. With no threat of an authoritative body to investigate his suspected role in the spectrum situation, Manmohan Singh had timidly refuted all claims of being in the wrong of matters.
“Who got the licences… how first-come-first-served was implemented…this was never discussed with me nor was it brought to the Cabinet. This was exclusively telecom minister’s decision,” he was quoted as saying in the interaction with the editors.
It is a wonder how the prime minister has managed to disappear on the investigative radar with these assertions when Raja had specifically claimed he had received clearance from the PMO before the allocation of the 2G spectrum. Moreover, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had told the special court that it had found evidence of “forgery” in changing of the first-come-first-serve policy to favour some companies to obtain 2G spectrum during A. Raja’s tenure.
It appears that the prime minister will have to dip his toes in icy water now that the CIC has laid the RTI applicant’s queries before the PMO and ordered it to make the documents public before July 10, an appeal the applicant claims that the PMO had denied before.
However, the question remains whether the government will wield its power and dodge this case as well since it is entitled to appeal in the Delhi High Court against the CIC order and seek a stay.