Ahluwalia defends Manmohan Singh’s role in 2G case

August 7th, 2011 - 12:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has steadfastly defended his mentor and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the handling of second generation (2G) spectrum case, saying the cabinet can’t be micro-managed.

“The prime minister is not micro-managing every decision before it’s taken. So while I think 2G clearly became a problem, I don’t think it became a problem because it was mishandled at the Prime Minister’s Office level,” Ahluwalia said in an interview.

The plan panel deputy chief even told Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate programme on CNN-IBN that former telecom minister A. Raja’s assertion that the prime minister had erred by not setting up a ministerial panel to oversee spectrum decisions was without basis.

“No, not at all! I think those who say that have a mistaken notion on how a cabinet government works,” said Ahluwalia, when specifically asked to respond to a growing feeling that the prime minister was also less than vigilant in handling the issue.

“Now you cannot set up a GoM (group of ministers) to look at something which has been decided at a cabinet level. I think if anybody felt the previous cabinet decisions needed to be reversed, they should have taken the matter to cabinet.”

It is alleged by Raja that Manmohan Singh had allowed Dayanidhi Maran, his predecessor at Sanchar Bhavan, the headquarters of the communications ministry, to persuade the prime minister in 2006 not to make pricing of spectrum a part of GoM.

Ahluwalia maintained the same position when asked to comment on the second instance of alleged mismanagement by the PMO when the law and telecom ministries differed in 2007 over how the spectrum should be allocated.

“Well, I am not an expert, but let me tell you my understanding. When two ministers disagree on issues that concern them it is certainly true that goes to the cabinet,” said the plan panel deputy chief.

“But when a minister is disagreeing with the ministry concerned on an issue that doesn’t concern the ministry which is disagreeing, it doesn’t actually go to the cabinet,” said Ahluwalia, who was the top bureaucrat at finance ministry when Manmohan Singh held the portfolio between 1991 and 1996.

On the third instance of alleged negligence, when the finance and telecom ministries differed over allocation or auction of spectrum, Ahluwalia said then telecom watchdog had already said airwaves should not be put for bids for 2G telephony.

“I mean, look if the PM would have gotten involved in every little disagreement there, I mean, he would have no time whatsoever to do his own job.”

Ahluwalia was also asked why the prime minister did not follow-up on his letter to Raja in November 2007, calling for fairness and transparency on a number of issues. His reply, once again, was similar.

“I don’t think the prime minister should be behaving as super minister, supervising everything his colleague does. He raises the issue, he got an assurance from the ministry that they were following established policy and that it had been approved by the Solicitor General.”

Similarly, asked why the prime minister turned a blind eye to the controversial decision when the norms of first-come-first served basis for spectrum allocation was changed, the plan panel deputy chief said the matter was sub judice.

He also defended the note of January 2008 that said the prime minister wanted his office to be kept at arm’s length regarding the developments in the telecom sector, which many interpret as a desire to “wash hands off a mess”.

“Well, it is true that this item of news has been played up quite a bit but it is one of the most gross misrepresentations of the fact. The facts are actually extremely straightforward,” Ahluwalia said.

“The idea that the prime minister must be watching over the shoulders of every ministry goes completely against any kind of principle of how cabinet government should work.”

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