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Centre gets CAG ammo, inquiry on table

- Cong and Left raise questions of propriety after allegation of collusion on 2G report

New Delhi, Nov. 23: Charges of collusion between comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai and BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi has provided the Centre with ammunition against the auditor with whom it have been annoyed for a long time.

Joshi heads Parliament’s public accounts committee (PAC), which examined the CAG report on the 2G scandal and upheld the auditor’s presumptive-loss figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore that had shocked the Centre.

Yesterday, former CAG official R.P. Singh, who had played a key role in the 2G spectrum audit, questioned that figure. He claimed some of his colleagues had visited Joshi’s home on a holiday to help him prepare the House panel report on the spectrum allocations.

Joshi slammed the “attempt to malign the CAG and PAC by vested interests, including the government”.

However, leaders of the Samajwadi Party, CPM and the CPI joined their Congress counterparts’ call for a probe saying the charges were serious, and ministers indicated the Centre’s willingness to order one.

Asked whether the BJP now stood exposed, Sonia Gandhi said: “Yes, certainly I think so.”

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said the Centre might order a probe and information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari demanded one.

‘Conflict of interest’

“What is extremely important is that in May 2010, when the draft report was prepared, the loss was quantified at Rs 2,645 crore but in November 2010, when the report was presented in Parliament, this loss jumped to Rs 1.76 lakh crore,” Tewari said.

“Who was responsible for increasing the presumptive-loss figures if the official who did the audit had not given that figure?”

He added: “The second question is about propriety. The PAC is supposed to independently exercise oversight over the reports of the CAG. If what R.P. Singh has said is true about the CAG officials actually taking assistance of the PAC in the preparation of their report, does this not amount to a conflict of interest?”

The Congress had earlier released a letter from Singh that claimed differences among CAG officials over the loss figure and pressure from Vinod Rai to upgrade it, but the letter didn’t trigger this kind of controversy at the time.

However, after the recent auction of 2G spectrum threw up only Rs 9,407 crore, the CAG figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore came under fresh scrutiny.

Yesterday, Singh told a TV channel: “After completing the audit of the ministry of telecom, which was under my direct charge, I prepared a draft audit report covering each and every aspect.... My report did not contain any loss figure,” he said.

“My report carried two types of figures, which indicate less recovery based on the Rs 1,658 crore that was charged for giving out pan-India licence along with spectrum.”

He added: “Another figure, which I had indicated not as exactly as a loss, but that amount that can be recovered. I found some people having more spectrum than what is provided under contractual agreement.”

He said his report had mentioned that Rs 37,000 crore could be recovered from those holding excess spectrum.

‘Sinister’ plot

The BJP described Singh as a “pawn in the hands of the government” and dubbed his allegations a “sinister conspiracy”

Joshi wondered why Singh had never raised the matter when he appeared before the House panel to explain the loss to the exchequer caused by 2G allocation.

“I wonder why he is speaking today,” Joshi said. “Singh had made a similar statement after his retirement. But when we questioned him, he denied giving any interview. He was questioned on the issue by the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) as well but he failed to prove anything.”

Joshi demanded an apology from Sonia for her remark and said he would quit the parliamentary committee if it were proved that he had personally influenced the CAG report.

“We simply requested the CAG to expedite its report on 2G as it was getting delayed,” Joshi said.

He described the CAG as the House panel’s “friend, philosopher and guide” because the auditor’s reports form the basis of the committee’s working, although the latter can examine issues outside the CAG’s domain.

“The Congress wants to show they are the holy cows and we are the crooks. This is not only an attempt to destroy the CAG but the country as well,” Joshi said.

The Congress kept up its attack. Law minister Ashwani Kumar called for the “conversation” held by Joshi and Rai “without knowledge of other members of the PAC” to be made public.

He said: “Certainly, some of the findings of the CAG have now become very doubtful. People are entitled to know what is the truth that has now come out.”

Party leaders such as Digvijaya Singh, Girija Vyas and P.L. Punia too demanded a probe.