Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was aware of the contents of the controversial 2G note which was issued as an office memorandum at the insistence of the Prime Minister's Office, a top official told the JPC on Thursday.
Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, R Gopalan, who appeared before the JPC for the second consecutive day, also told the panel looking into the 2G issue that though the internal note of March 25, 2011, was seen by Mukherjee, that did not mean that it was approved by the finance minister.
Facing a volley of questions, mostly from BJP members, Gopalan submitted that the note was a result of joint efforts by various government departments, Joint Parliamentary Committee chairman PC Chacko told reporters at the end of two days of questioning of Finance Ministry officials.
Gopalan was asked to comment on the meaning of the term 'seen' based on a recent Law Ministry opinion to the JPC which said it "means something more than mere sight of the document."
He told the Committee that approval is sought for a proposal or a policy decision. In cases where no approval is required, files are often referred to ministers and senior officials for them to see before they are sent forward.
"...he (Pranab) is aware of the contents of the note. That is the meaning of 'seen'. That was said by the secretary (Gopalan)," Chacko said.
The JPC chief also referred to a letter written by Mukherjee to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 26 last year in which he had said that the Finance Ministry was initially not keen on sending the note as an office memorandum (OM), but had to at the insistence of a joint secretary in the PMO.
"This was in that letter that was explained today (by Gopalan)," he said.
Gopalan told the committee that the joint secretary in the PMO had conveyed to him over telephone to send the note as an OM and there was no written record of the communication between the two officials.
An OM is a government circular and carries a great weight in terms of authority.
The controversial note, which had generated much political heat, had suggested that then finance minister P Chidambaram could have insisted on auctioning the 2G spectrum.
When he was pointedly asked about the inference in the note that Chidambaram could have insisted on auction, Gopalan said it was a "mere compilation of facts" and had "no inference or conclusion".
Gopalan also told the committee that the note was an effort by various government departments to harmonise available facts scattered across various files.
He said the internal note was necessary to ensure that all departments concerned had similar facts and it could work as a backgrounder on the 2G issue. This, he said, could avoid confusion on the facts among various departments.
He was asked why the note was prepared when investigative agencies, the JPC, the PAC and courts were already involved in the issue.
Some members alleged that the Finance Ministry failed to find out whether the objections raised by them were being followed up by the Department of Telecom and dubbed the entire exercise as "shadow boxing".
Gopalan was also asked to explain why the Finance Ministry did not protest the decision to remove pricing of spectrum as one of the terms of references of a Group of Ministers at the insistence of the DoT.
Chacko said files available with JPC indicate that the Finance Ministry had protested to the Cabinet Secretary but after a stage there was no further communication on the issue.
According to a 2003 Cabinet decision, the Finance Ministry and the DoT were to decide on spectrum pricing based on consultations.