Besieged by scam after scam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finds it necessary to explain things from his point of view.
He tacitly admits to coalition pressures but says he would complete his term. Excerpts from his interaction with TV editors Effort is on to sign treaties or to revise treaties which would enable us to get information from the affected countries where this money is stored.
We will take all possible measures to control this menace of black money, to bring back to our country the money which is legally ours I think in a coalition government there is a coalition dharma and obviously the things are not entirely the way I would like them….The country voted our party to be the leader of the UPA coalition and we have a lot of unfinished business to accomplish and therefore I have never thought in terms of giving up half way and I will stay the course.
Q: AROON PURIE (AAJ TAK): On the 2G scam: You had warned Raja in November 2007 to considering auction of the 2G spectrum on 2007 rates and he actually disregarded your advice. And later on in 2008 the companies which got the spectrum sold it for large sums of money, the values which are in the public domain. Inspite of all this you appointed him again as the telecom minister. What was your thinking behind this ?
PM: Let me first deal with what I said to Raja in a letter that I wrote to him on November 2, 2007. I mentioned in that letter number of concerns which were being expressed, some in the press, some telecom companies used to come and mention to me. I listed a number of issues and I said to him that you must look into these issues and ensure that they are dealt with in a fair, equitable and transparent manner. One of the issues that I asked him to look into was the possibility from legal and technical angle of having an auction of spectrum. Raja wrote back to me almost on the same day, or our letters crossed. He said, I have been absolutely transparent in my dealings, I will be so in the future, and you have my assurance that I have done nothing and will do nothing which will not be consistent with the promise that I am making.
Now as far as auction is concer ned, he came back to me and said auction is something which has not been suggested by TRAI, also not suggested by the Telecom Commission and he also said that if we have an auction, it would not give a level playing field for the new comers, because the existing players have got their spectrum free of charge of about 10 megahertz. Therefore he said the TRAI’s advice, Telecom Commission’s advice and his own view was that auctions are not the way forward at least for 2G spectrum and he also mentioned in a subsequent letter that he is agreeable to auction of 3G spectrum. But with regard to 2G spectrum, he was very clear that he should stay with the then existing approach.
And this was also discussed with the Finance Ministry because in terms of the Cabinet decision of 2003 the pricing and allocation of spectrum was to be settled between the Ministry of Finance and the Telecom Dept. Initially, of course, the Finance Ministry did ask for a high price of spectrum but after many discussions, the two ministries agreed that as far as 2G is concerned, we have to live with the present system particularly with regard to the amount of spectrum that is built and embedded into a licence agreement. So this is the background why I did not proceed further with this matter of pricing of spectrum, because if the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Telecom both agree and they have the obligation of the Cabinet Decision of 2003 to decide on the matter and also since TRAI is an expert body and Telecom Commission has experts, if all of them are of the same view, I did not feel I was in a position to insist that auctions must be insisted.
(Supplementary): Sale of spectrum to companies even before roll out, a scam was staring everybody in the face …?
PM: I do not know, frankly speaking what was the motivation of people who got spectrum but I know that as far as the basic policy is concerned, that I thought was as it was then the prevailing practice and Raja was continuing that policy, that as far as who gets licences, the first come first served policy, how it was implemented, that was never discussed with me.
Licences was not matter which got referred to me or to the Cabinet, that was the decision exclusively of the telecom minister. Now subsequent events have shown that companies sold their equity but I was told that they had not sold it to shareholders. They have sold it in a manner to dilute the equity of the promoters. Now if they have to roll out they require money, and that money can be raised either by way of borrowings, or by way of diluting equity by getting in more people. Therefore at that stage I did not think that I should intervene in that affair.
The other thing that you have mentioned about Raja being inducted into the Cabinet, I cannot divulge what went on in the processes of Cabinet formation but I would like to mention that we are a coalition government. In a coalition government, you can suggest your preferences but you have to go by what the leader of that particular coalition party ultimately insists. And Raja along with Maran was the choice of the DMK party. And as of that moment, I had no reason, frankly speaking, to feel that anything seriously wrong had been done. And therefore I did not feel that I had the authority to object to Raja’s entry because I quite honestly in May 2009, although complaints were coming from all sides, and some were from those companies which had not benefitted, some were from those which had benefitted but not benefitted adequately and therefore I was not in a position to make up my mind that anything seriously was wrong with Raja’s doings at that time.
Prashant Raghuvamsam (Asianet): One of the hot subjects is corruption in judiciary, there are allegations even against a former Chief Justice. Justice Krishna Iyer says that you are silent on this matter. How will you react to this ?
PM: With regard to corruption in judiciary, corruption in any walk of life, whether it is in judiciary, executive, legislature, should be a matter of concern to all thinking people in our country and therefore I am second to none, in saying that if there is corruption, whether it is in judiciary, or in executive or in other walks of life, we must get rid of that.
Pranjal Sharma (Bloomberg-UTV): No positive, constructive economic agenda Whatever steps are being taken are being stalled at the Parliament level, stalled by the states or by the opposition parties or even in some cases by industry. No big reformist wave coming from UPA2. Have we lost the will to take hard reformist decisions?
PM: No way, We have not lost the will. We will persist. There are difficulties when Parliament is not allowed to function. When the opposition led states for example do not wish to cooperate over path breaking reforms ushering in single goods and services tax. This is the reform which is needed. This would make our tax system if the reform comes about, an envy of the world. But the opposition parties, particularly, the BJP has taken a hostile attitude and the reasons that have been given, frankly I cannot mention it in public, they say because you have taken some decision against a particular person, who was a minister in Gujarat, we must reverse it, I don’t want to add further Rajdeep Sardesai (CNN-IBN): You have said that you would like the Parliament to resume functioning in an orderly manner.
Are you therefore, on your own part ready to agree to the opposition’s demand for Joint Parliament Committee into the 2G scam, because there is feeling that there was a reluctance both on your part and the part of the Government because you did not want to appear in front of a JPC in the context of the 2G scam? PM: While you have raised about my opposition to the JPC of being afraid to appear before it.
I am not afraid of appearing before any committee. The PAC is a joint parliamentary committee presided over by a very senior member of the opposition. I have publicly declared that I am willing to appear before the PAC. So I am not afraid of appearing before any committee including a JPC. And this is entirely a wrong impression that I was the one who was blocking the agreement about the JPC because I did not want to appear before the JPC. I have always said that as Prime Minister my conduct must be like Caesar’s wife above suspicion and I am quite prepared to appear before any committee that may go into this.
(Supplementary): And would you concede that there are a lot of corrupt people in your government and you are not able to act against and that led you to believe that enough is enough?
PM: I think in a coalition government there is a coalition dharma and obviously the things are not entirely the way I would like them to be but quite frankly I have never felt like resigning because I have a job to do. The country voted our party to be the leader of the UPA coalition and we have a lot of unfinished business to accomplish and therefore I have never thought in terms of giving up half way and I will stay the course.
Subhashish Moitra (Kolkata TV): Sir for the last few months, UPA has been facing two major issues i.e. price rise and corruption. Can it affect the alliance and can it break the UPA alliance from within and is there any chance of having relations with the Left? PM: I think, the Left is no longer a part of our coalition so I don’t know how to answer your question. As far as coalition partners presently are concerned I think, ours is a strong coalition. Our allies are as committed to strengthening the hands of coalition government as anybody else. So there is no danger that there might be inner tensions which might lead to break-up of this coalition. We are a strong government, we are a strong coalition and our coalition partners are with us….
Pronnoy Roy (NDTV): You are talking about unfair criticism of lame duck and the sense of drift that you the most honest prime minister are surrounded by a very dishonest administration. How will you change this drift. Are you going to have a major reshuffle?
PM: Well, I have said that after the budget session of Parliament is over, there will be a restructuring -a reshuffle of the Cabinet. I hope and I think I will get back to the task once the budget session of Parliament is over.
Ramakrishnan (SunTV): On fishermen issue with Sri Lankan Government.
PM: I have been told that about 118 fishermen have been taken into custody. We are taking up this matter with the Sri Lankan Government.
We take a very serious view. I think only earlier in this month, the Foreign Secretary to make a strong demarche …..This kind of behaviour is not acceptable among neighbouring countries.
(Supplementary): Tamil Nadu is going for assembly elections. What is your assessment on TN elections.
PM: I am not an astrologer but I do hope that the ruling coalition will win.
Sanjay Majumdar (BBC-British Aid): Why do we still need international aid?
PM: India still is a poor country. And it is certainly true if aid is not forthcoming we will not collapse but I think we have the capacity to make good use of development assistance and if some friendly country offers large amount of money by way of concessional development support, I don’t see why we should decline to accept.
(Supplementary): Image of India taken a beating after the scams.
PM: Let me say that this sort of atmosphere is not good. It saps our own self-confidence, it also spoils the image of India and therefore I urge each one of you that in reporting these events, while opinions are a matter of speculation, facts are sacred. And facts should not be distorted. Opinions, you can freely express views, which are one’s held convictions, but we owe it to our country that when it comes to reporting country’s affairs, at least when it comes to dealing with the facts, they should be as objective as is possible.
Satish K Singh (Zee News): Aapne yeh press conference kyon bulayi? Brashtachar ke mudde pe aap bahut serious hai. Lok Pal, Black money, State funding of elections.
Malam in budget. Will you accept any of your mistakes.
PM: A Group of Ministers is looking into all aspects of how to deal with corruption. Also it is not certainly true that we have not dealt with black money problem, the effort is on to sign treaties or to revise treaties which would enable us to get information from the affected countries where this money is stored. We will take all possible measures to control this menace of black money, to bring back to our country the money which is legally ours.
Rajdeep Sardesai (CNN IBN): Home Minister spoke of the governance deficit, your telecom minister spoke of zero revenue loss on 2G, these are two statements. Where do you stand in the 2G scam, where do you stand on the Home Minister’s governance deficit statement.
PM: Obviously if the events have taken place, they do bring out the weaknesses in the governance, or you may call them ethical deficit, I don’t deny that we need to improve the quality of governance that’s not a subject which divides me and other members of the Cabinet.
With regard to the loss of revenues, it is very much dependent on what is your starting point. There are various estimates, but you have to assess what is the right magnitude after asking yourself what was the right price.
Now, I have explained to you that the then existing policy of the Government was that auctions should not take place. And if auctions are not taking place then what is the basis for you to calculate a loss. I am not in a position to say that there is a foolproof method in which one can determine the extent of the loss. It is very much a function of what is your starting point. And also depends upon our opinion we have a budget which gives subsidy for food, 80,000 crores per annum, some people may say these foodgrains should be sold at market place. Will we say then because they are not sold at market prices, because you are giving them a subsidy, it is a loss of 80,000 crores. We give subsidy to fertilisers which cost about 60,000 crores every year people can say that these fertilisers should be priced at the market rate, would you then say that there is a loss of revenue of 60,000 crores in fertilisers sale. We subsidise the price of kerosene to an extent which is greater than many other subsidies, that imposes burden on our oil marketing companies, should we say then that because we give subsidy for kerosene sales under public distribution, that there is loss of revenue.
(Supplementary): Are you disagreeing with what CAG said, or are you agreeing with what your Telecom minister has said.
PM: I think the CAG himself has said that it is presumptive loss. And therefore, it depends upon which assumptions you make. I would not like to intervene.
Arnab Goswami (Times Now): In October you said 90 days for CWG probe, it is now more than 90 days. Do you feel disappointed with the progress of the CWG probe.
PM: We are trying our very best but we had to go through the due process of law. We are a country where the rule of law prevails, sometimes, it is very frustrating that it takes time.
But you have my assurance that wrong doers will not escape this time.
Pronnoy Roy: It is very difficult to calculate the loss. There is subsidy in the allocation of 2G licences. Do you think it should have been an auction.
PM: I think you have to take a decision at that particular time. Of all the decisions that I take, it is 7 out of 10 turn out to be correct. The shareholders of a normal corporation will say a job well done. We are living in a world of uncertainty. Many things ex-ante you think do not turn out to be ex-post. Therefore there is a gap between ex-ante thinking and what has emerged as a reality subsequently.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Biggest regret and biggest achievement in UPA 2 PM: It is a big regret that these irregularities have happened, these should not have happened. That is certain I am not very happy about these developments. Achievements, the very fact that despite very unfavourable international economic environment, we have managed to ensure that our economy’s growth rhythm is not grossly affected.