Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Sunday said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) cannot be held responsible for irregularities in 2G spectrum allocation as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was not running a micro-managed form of government.
“I don’t think that the Prime Minister should be behaving as the Super Minister, supervising everything that his colleague does…,” Mr. Ahluwalia told Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN in Devil’s Advocate.
He said this in response to a question on whether the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, followed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s advice to be cautious and transparent while giving licences and 2G spectrum in 2007-2008.
On the letter written by the Prime Minister himself on November 2, 2007, asking Mr. Raja to exercise fairness and transparency in spectrum allocation, he said the letter was written since it concerned the public.
Mr. Ahluwalia clarified that Dr. Singh was assured that policies were being followed and deviations, if any, had the approval of the Solicitor General.
“The Minister [Raja] subsequently responded and assured him [Dr. Singh] that he was following the established policy and there was some departure which, I think he brought to the attention of the PM and said that these had the support and approval of the Solicitor General,” he said.
“Now in an environment like that, remember, if something wrong or unfair is being done by a Ministry, people affected take the matter to court, they protest…, if the PM keeps monitoring, then we are not running a Cabinet government, we are running something like a micro-managed form of government,” he said.
In the loop
Mr. Raja has said in the court that the Prime Minister and the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram were in the loop and the issue of induction of foreign partners by Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB) and Unitech Wireless (now Uninor) by way of issuance of fresh shares was discussed with them.
Since then, the Opposition has been attacking the PMO over its role in the 2G spectrum allocation scam and demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister is not micro-managing every decision before it’s taken. So whilst I think 2G clearly became a problem, I don’t think it became a problem because it was mishandled at the PMO level before all these decisions were taken,” he said.
Mr. Ahluwalia was of the view that various Ministries were responsible for carrying out the affairs of the government and the Prime Minister alone cannot be held responsible for everything.
“There is an entire machinery [in the government] and it is their job to make sure that they do a good job. Today, hundreds of letters go to the Prime Minister, I’m sure, alleging wrongdoing everywhere. If the PM were to become responsible for personally ensuring this doesn’t happen, he would simply have no time to do anything at all,” he said.
‘Unaware of correspondence’
Asked whether Dr. Singh was aware of the correspondence between the Finance Ministry and the Department of Telecom, where the former was pressing for auction rather than first-come-first-served policy, Mr. Ahluwalia said there was no reason for Dr. Singh to be aware of communications between two Ministries.
“These discussions went on between the Finance Ministry and the Communications Ministry…. If the Prime Minister would have gotten involved in every little disagreement there, I mean he would have no time whatsoever to do his own job,” he added.
Talking about the PMO allowing Mr. Raja to dismiss the Law Ministry’s advice on referring the 2G spectrum allocation issue to the Empowered Group of Ministers, Mr. Ahluwalia said Mr. Raja was not bound to go to the Cabinet following the Law Ministry’s advice since the issue did not pertain to the latter ministry.
“I understand the Law Minister did raise this issue but actually what had been referred to the Law Minister was a much narrower technical issue. So whether to go to a GoM or not is not automatic when two Ministries disagree on an issue that doesn’t concern the second Ministry,” he said. Hindu