The blame game within the UPA over the 2G spectrum allocation took a significant turn on Thursday, with home minister P Chidambaram assuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he would not take any unilateral action till Singh returns from the US on Tuesday.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, whose ministry’s note virtually blamed P Chidambaram for not taking pre-emptive action that could have prevented the 2G scam, is to return from the US after an International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting on September 26.
Top government sources said Congress president Sonia Gandhi will also step in to resolve the issue once Singh and Mukherjee are back.Singh and Mukherjee spoke to an angry Chidambaram on Wednesday night after the controversial note surfaced. Sources said Singh told Chidambaram that he had not seen the controversial March 25, 2011 letter from the finance ministry.
Mukherjee is understood to have told Chidambaram, as well as the PM, that the document pointing a finger at the home minister was a ‘background note’. He even told Chidambaram that he had not approved the letter.
The note, interestingly, was sent two days after the PM and telecom minister Kapil Sibal publicly defended, inside and outside Parliament, the entry fee of Rs 1,650 crore and the first-come, first-served method.
While the letter infers that the finance ministry under Chidambaram could have cancelled the letters of intent unilaterally issued by the telecom ministry under A Raja, sources said the first interaction on the issue between Raja and Chidambaram took place on January 30, 2008.
This meeting in which then finance secretary D Subba Rao — now Reserve Bank governor —was present was after the licences had been issued by Raja in consultation with the PM and Mukherjee, who was chairman of the empowered group of ministers on 2G spectrum pricing the previous year.
According to top officials, the finance ministry between May 2005 and January 9, 2008, consistently suggested that entry fee should be revised and that auction should be adopted. However, after postponing the meeting of the Telecom Commission from its scheduled date of January 9, 2008 to January 15, 2008, Raja’s ministry issued 120 Letters of Intent on January 10, 2008 at the old entry fee of Rs 1650 crore.
In fact at a meeting chaired by the PM on July 4, 2008 it was decided to update the entry fee of Rs 1650 crore by adopting either of the methods that would yield between Rs 3028 crore or Rs 3400 crore. This amount, sources said, would be charged upfront when the licensee applied for additional spectrum allotted upto March 31, 2008.