I usually avoid posting large sections of articles, interviews etc as “excerpts” but I am making an exception for this one…I stumbled on this interview of Sh Arun Shourie an hour ago – and am putting these excerpts up, given the nature of its contents…Please read on – and please share widely…All is not well, All is desperately not well… More on this when I have some time to gather my thoughts…In the meantime, I am grieving for the country.
*** Excerpts from Karan Thapar’s interview with Arun Shourie ***
Karan Thapar: Mr Shourie, wittingly or unwittingly, did you as telecommunications minister facilitate A Raja’s scam?
Arun Shourie: That is absolute bunk. The dates are changed. Monies are collected. The priority lists are changed. This is facilitated by anything that anyone of us did?
Karan Thapar: So this is not just a lie, this is tantamount to libel?
Arun Shourie: It is. Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Okay! Let’s come to the details so that you can respond fully. Justice Patil’s report suggests that as telecommunications minister you not only ignored, but you contravened a specific Cabinet decision of the Vajpayee government taken on October 31, 2003 which in turn endorsed a TRAI recommendation that all new entrants into 2G should by the multi-stage bidding process. Instead, you opted for ‘first come, first serve’.
Arun Shourie: No, no my friend. You’re right. The Cabinet decision is to go according to the recommendations of TRAI. And the TRAI recommendations, I have the report here and it’s called ‘Recommendations on Unified Licensing’. All your viewers can go to the website of TRAI now and look at this report for under the entry for October 2003 and in the paragraphs they will see TRAI considered three alternatives. First one was bidding and they rejected it. They said don’t do bidding at this stage and in this period till a universal licensing system is introduced which has not been introduced till this day.
…Karan Thapar: So the third recommendation and I am spelling this out for the audience was that you stick to the old pricing?
Arun Shourie: To the pricing as discovered by multi-stage bidding for the fourth cellular licence.
Karan Thapar: Which means you stick to the process that had been established already.
Arun Shourie: Not only the process but the figure which has been established.
Karan Thapar: And this is precisely what the Vajpayee government on October 31, 2003 endorsed?
Arun Shourie: Absolutely. Endorsed in their decision and they said the department with the approval of the minister shall work out the details of this implementation including the pricing.
Karan Thapar: Now, the Shivraj Patil report says that within something like three weeks of the Vajpayee government endorsing the TRAI recommendations, first on November 17 and then again on November 24 you approved the formulation of procedure for grant of UASLs on the basis of ‘first come, first serve’ as against multi-bidding. Do you deny that?
Arun Shourie: Deny? That is an absolute fabrication. This fellow Patil, he is a hand-picked judge. He gives a report convenient to the government and what does it do? It absolutely suppresses. Either he has not been given the documents. He decided I will not meet anybody who was dealing with the matter at that time. He will confine himself to the documents given to him by Kapil Sibal’s little minions. And he gives this kind of nonsense.
Karan Thapar: Just to clarify, you’re saying either he didn’t have full information or saying Justice Patil suppressed details that he had?
Arun Shourie: Absolutely. Because the record is so clear.
Karan Thapar: You’re sure you’re not in the process of criticising Patil, libeling him?
Arun Shourie: So what. If he wants to go to the court he can go just now. What is the problem?
Karan Thapar: You are quite happy for him to go to the court and sue you?
Arun Shourie: Any day, any day. All the officers will be confronting him.
Karan Thapar: A second revelation made by the ‘Hindustan Times’ on the basis of leaks made to that paper is that you, or your officials, concocted with Pradeep Baijal (then TRAI chairman) a letter written on the November 11, just two weeks or so after the TRAI recommendations, where Baijal so interpreted the TRAI recommendations as to eliminate multi-stage bidding and to facilitate ‘first come, first serve’.
Arun Shourie: On the contrary man that is damn problem with everybody including the media. Why don’t you look at the letter? The letter of Baijal. I can give it you just now. You can get your officers to do this. The letter of Baijal is in response to our query that we have now been asked to implement your decision and there are three things to be done. What about pending applications, what about existing migration applications and new applications? He reproduces the paragraphs exactly – 7.18, 7.19 etc from TRAI and says that’s our recommendation. After that TRAI in four different communications, TRAI as a whole, not only endorses but reiterates that recommendation.
Karan Thapar: So just to confirm, you’re saying to me that the claim or the assertion that Baijal reinterpreted TRAI to suit your purposes and to be different from something what TRAI originally suggested, that assertion is again a lie.
Arun Shourie: Absolute lie Karan. Here is the letter if your camera can show it. Baijal letter merely reproduces what the TRAI had said. It literally reproduces the paragraphs of TRAI. It says look at that. That is our recommendation.
Karan Thapar: What about something else? The ‘Hindustan Times’ in its front-page cover story on November 9 suggests that the letter Baijal wrote on November 11, 2003 was as a result of a private conversation between Vinod Vaish, your secretary at DoT (Department of Telecommunications) and Baijal. In another words, you or your officials connived with Baijal to get the letter written.
Arun Shourie: This is the swallow-and-vomit journalism of people like ‘Hindustan Times’. What do you mean? We are the Ministry of Telecommunications man, we can’t use a telephone? I worked for five years in government. There is not a single occasion when I would have sought anybody’s advice by writing or by writing to him. I’ll ring him up. I’ll walk up to the officer’s room and I’ll say look here, I need this information. Please get it from me.
…Karan Thapar: Would you consider taking the ‘Hindustan Times’ to court for libel?
Arun Shourie: No, why should we? Who believes these characters, man? This is swallow-and-vomit journalism, I’m telling you. Let them take me to the court. I’m saying this is swallow-and-vomit journalism.
…Karan Thapar: Let me repeat the wider accusation against you. The accusation is this that you wrongly established the ‘first come, first serve’ policy in defiance of TRAI, in contravention of your own Cabinet’s decision and thus set a precedent that A Raja followed. In other words, if you hadn’t acted the way you did. Raja could not have taken the steps that he took and the Raja scam would have never happened.
Arun Shourie: Raja, my friend, you know even in following procedures these fellows can make money so don’t worry. But the point here is on the ‘first come, first serve’ principle. It is a principle much older than me for the allotment of spectrum and there is a statutory obligation in the licence condition alone that first you will get 4.4.MHz of spectrum. When your subscriber base increases to such and such level, you will get the extra amount by paying the specified fee.
…Karan Thapar: Kapil Sibal has said that the Shivraj Patil report will be given to the CBI to assess criminal culpability. Are you worried that you could end up facing criminal charges?
Arun Shourie: What nonsense, man! I rang up the director of the CBI as soon as he took over saying whenever you want me I will come. Just give me a little notice. Not only this. Day before yesterday when I was coming to Delhi, I was at the Bombay airport, I was told by my house that there has been a call from the CBI SP and he wants to contact you and we have given your numbers to him. I said no problem. In 45 minutes I had to board the flight. I rang him up and he said sir when are you next coming to Delhi. I said I am just boarding the flight now. It will land at 5:10. I will come straight to your office at 6 and because I don’t need any lawyers or documents I will come to you. He said I’ll just get back to you in two minutes after contacting my seniors. And then he said sir we realise that we have a meeting with out council today because tomorrow is February 10 and we have to appear in the Supreme Court, therefore when can we meet again. I’m telling your viewers, I’m telling you we have fixed the date for February 21. You are all welcome to come.
…Karan Thapar: I gather that as far back as August-September 2009 you met the Prime Minister in Parliament, you gave him details of the enormous loot happening over spectrum under Raja. You also showed him papers as proof. Tell me what exactly happened at that meeting.
Arun Shourie: Actually it was the Prime Minister’s question day and then he would take a particular route outside so I stood in the path that he usually takes from the lobby of the Rajya Sabha. I had the papers with me listing the front companies of Raja into which the money was going, the appointments that had been made, the brokers that are there and I said to him in Punjabi, “Dr Singh, loot is happening under the umbrella of your good name.” His demeanour was as if he was saying what has to be done. I said, “Nothing much. You just request Nair (Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office TKA Nair) to contact me.”
…Karan Thapar: Did Nair call you?
Arun Shourie: No. I waited for one full month. Then in October 2009 I contacted Mr Ashwini Kumar who was then the CBI director. I gave him the papers, led him through the papers, gave him the name and the telephone number and the contact and the person through whom he could contact the person who knows everything and who was working with Raja.
Karan Thapar: This is a sort of a whistleblower.
Arun Shourie: The whistleblower. The hero of the whole matter who has been receiving threats to his life.
Karan Thapar: So you gave the name and the phone number of the whistleblower rot the CBI director.
Arun Shourie: The CBI then contacted him in the first week of November 2009 and met him again and again and again. And when they had all the details and they followed those things up, the investigative officer was transferred out.
Karan Thapar: So can I just clarify two things? It was your meeting with the CBI director in November 2009 and your introducing the whistleblower to the CBI that actually gave the CBI the details and the knowledge and the information that led to the case against Raja.
Arun Shourie: No I am nobody. I don’t want to be a hero or anything. Yes, that person is the real hero who has done national service.
Karan Thapar: The whistleblower?
Arun Shourie: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Can you reveal his name or is that impossible?
Arun Shourie: No. You can’t imagine the threats under which he is living today.
Karan Thapar: Just one question. He must be, I presume, a government servant and an insider who knows the details.
…Karan Thapar: But this also means that if you hadn’t voluntarily gone to the CBI, the CBI would never have got to know the story?
Arun Shourie: I don’t know my friend. It’s not only that. It is that when the CBI got to know the story and confirmed each and every detail, they did not proceed with the matter.
Image courtesy: Horasis via Wikipedia
Karan Thapar: What stopped the CBI from proceeding in the matter?
Arun Shourie: I think they regard themselves as a department of the government and therefore, they were waiting for a nod to go ahead. It is only when the Supreme Court has intervened and is monitoring the investigation that the CBI is protected and is proceeding under.
…Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you. All of this happened 15 months ago. Why haven’t you revealed it earlier?
Arun Shourie: The CBI was stuck. What should I have gone ahead with?
Karan Thapar: If the CBI was stuck, you could have forced them to reveal this earlier.
Arun Shourie: No Karan, I’m not into this at all now. But for Kapil Sibal’s falsehood, I would never have bothered to go with it.
Karan Thapar: But, you had personally, details and proofs of Raja’s loot. Secondly, you had made this known to the Prime Minister and he hadn’t acted. Surely, it was in the national interest to tell the country that I’ve informed the Prime Minister for 15 months, he’s done nothing and even the CBI isn’t active.
Arun Shourie: I have to be in Delhi for various reasons.
Karan Thapar: That’s easily done. You are often in Delhi
Arun Shourie: I’m not often in Delhi. This is the second time I’ve come to Delhi in one year. There is no doubt that I could reveal it, but I don’t have that anger now in me to pursue these things. I’m attending to other matters at home and that’s what I’m doing.
Karan Thapar: What about this? For at least a year, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have been accusing not only the Prime Minister of a cover-up but even suggesting a possibility of involvement. You had proof that at least of cover-up the PM can be accused and you didn’t make the proof available.
Arun Shourie: The BJP knows what I knew.
Karan Thapar: The BJP knows what you knew? Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley know this?
Arun Shourie: I don’t want to talk about BJP’s internal meeting but it is certainly my assessment that they were not interested in following these things.
Karan Thapar: Even the BJP wasn’t interested?
Arun Shourie: No.
Karan Thapar: The BJP had dynamite and they weren’t interested in following it up?
Arun Shourie: That’s true. That’s unfortunately true. It is only the AIADMK MPs who were following this up.
Karan Thapar: Your own party had dynamite and they weren’t interested in following it up?
Arun Shourie: I’m not going to make it a BJP v/s Arun Shourie business. But it is evident. And many of these people have had these very chaps as their clients, both on Kapil Sibal’s side and other sides.
*** End of Excerpts ***
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