The Prime Minister’s new principal secretary, Nripendra Misra could face some discomfort over a set of recommendations made by him as a chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that aided former telecom minister A Raja’s controversial decision to ignore the auction route for allocating 2G spectrum in 2007.
The decision erupted into a major scam a few years later and has been termed as a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer by the CAG. On August 28, 2007, TRAI issued its recommendations to renew the license terms for telecom operators, just two months before Raja began the 2G allotment process. The recommendations were issued under Misra’s authority and covered an array of issues related to license renewals and fresh spectrum allotments. In several paragraphs, Misra clearly stated that the 2G spectrum bands of 800, 900 and 1,800 MHz should not be auctioned.
While Misra has distanced himself from these recommendations subsequently, the Supreme Court has recorded them while hearing a PIL filed by several NGOs as well as BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy, seeking the cancellation of the 2G licenses allotted by Raja. In its final judgment delivered on February 2, 2012 cancelling the licenses, the SC recorded paragraphs 2.73, 2.78 and 2.79 of the TRAI recommendations that clearly stated that 2G spectrum should not be auctioned.
The SC noted that the “…recommendations made by TRAI for allocation of spectrum in 2G bands had serious financial implications.” It also pointed out that Raja was awaiting TRAI’s recommendations before allotting the spectrum. In paragraph 2.78 of the recommendations, Misra was clear that TRAI “…is not in favour of changing the spectrum fee regime for new entrants.”
Once the recommendations were clear that there was no need to auction the 2G spectrum, Raja gave out licenses using the 2001 rates on a first-come-first-serve basis paving the way for one of the biggest scams in the UPA government. Misra remained unavailable for a comment and did not reply to messages sent by HT.
Once the 2G allotments became controversial, Misra made several attempts to distance himself from these recommendations. In a demi-official letter written in July 2008 to the then telecom secretary, he selectively quoted from his August 2007 recommendations to create an impression that he was in favour of auctioning the spectrum.
His claims came under scrutiny during the 2G trial. The accused, including Raja, cited the recommendations for not auctioning the 2G spectrum. Trial court records accessed by HT clearly record Misra being repeatedly quizzed on his 2007 recommendations. In a cross-examination on March 22, 2012 by senior advocate Meet Malhotra representing Unitech Wireless, Misra was confronted with his recommendations. He was unable to deny his recommendations that the 2G spectrum should not be auctioned. Instead, he insists that there is no “contradiction,” between his recommendations and subsequent claims.