Recover the loot

The resignation of Union communications minister A Raja should not be considered the end of the controversy surrounding the ministry’s dubious decision to allocate 2G spectrum and licences to selected companies in 2008. As pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) and others, the decision caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the national exchequer. Raja’s resignation does not make good the loss, though he had to go in view of the overwhelming evidence of  his role in the affair.

The matter is not just a political issue between the UPA leadership and the DMK to which the minister belongs. Since the country has suffered a huge loss, the money should be recovered and those responsible should be brought to book. The loss is about 3 per cent of the country’s GDP and half of the estimated fiscal deficit of the country for the current year.

The loss is too big to be the price of the Congress party’s alliance with the DMK. The prime minister risked the survival of the UPA-I government for a lesser issue when he defied the Left parties on the civil nuclear deal last year. The nation is also entitled to know all the details of the decision-making process which resulted in the loss.

This is specially so because the telecom ministry has submitted to the supreme court that the prime minister was ‘kept fully informed of all decisions,’ he supported them and there was ‘no difference of opinion’ on the matter. Raja has also maintained that he was only following the NDA government’s policy, but without accepting that allocation of spectrum in 2008 at 2001 prices is patently absurd.

It is also now known that senior officials of the ministry were not in agreement with the minister on his decisions. Since there is a lot of obfuscation and unconvincing arguments, the matter needs to fully investigated and the blame should be fully fixed. The unwillingness of the CBI, which has already registered an FIR in the case to expedite the investigation, as noted by the supreme court, is a also a matter of concern.

Whatever be the kind of investigation that is needed to unravel the irregularities, it should lead to the recovery of the money lost to the exchequer, if necessary through re-auctioning of the licences. The prime minister also has a personal responsibility to clear himself, as his name has been dragged into it by the ministry.

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