New York, Sep 22 (IANS) Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has avoided direct comment on a note from his ministry to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) saying airwaves for telecom could have been auctioned in 2008 if his cabinet colleague P. Chidambaram had wanted.
Speaking at a high-profile event organised by the Asia Society here Wednesday evening, Mukherjee acknowledged such a note had indeed been written by his office but declined further comment on the matter, saying it was sub judice.
'Today a sensational news item has come and it is through the exercise of the right to information. A note was sent by the ministry of finance to the prime minister. Somebody demanded through the use of right to information to have a copy of that note,' he said.
'And that is being used -- whether legally it can be used or not is a different story -- but the fact of the matter is, somebody has produced that as a piece of evidence in a particular case,' the finance minister added.
'The matter is sub judice. The court is looking into it.'
His comments were in response to a query by former US ambassador to India Frank Wisner on what India was doing to address the issue of corruption.
Earlier, after an address at the India Investment Forum, co-hosted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry here, Mukherjee had declined to field any query from the media on the matter.
In a new twist to the second generation spectrum case, a note to the PMO from the finance ministry said the airwaves could have auctioned in 2008 if Home Minister P. Chidambaram, then the finance minister, had 'stuck to his stand'.
In the note, the finance ministry says Chidambaram could have prevented spectrum from being given away at throwaway prices by insisting on its auction -- alluding that presumptive losses worth thousands of crores could have thus been avoided.
The note, which was apparently shown to Mukherjee and accessed by way by an application under the Right to Information Act, was prepared by a deputy secretary in the finance ministry and sent to the Prime Minister's Office March 25.
Activist Vivek Garg had filed the RTI application in the PMO.
Then communications minister A. Raja is already in judicial custody along with 13 other people, including his DMK party colleague and Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi, in connection with the case, being heard both in a trial court and the Supreme Court.
According to the note, in a meeting with Raja Jan 30, 2008, Chidambaram had said 'he was for now not seeking to revisit the current regimes for entry fee or revenue share' of spectrum.
The note says even the then finance secretary had in February 2008, after allocation of spectrum was agreed upon, said that the Department of Telecom (DoT) could still go for an auction, invoking a clause to cancel the allocation under the guidelines.
'The DoT could have invoked this clause for cancelling licences in case the Ministry of Finance had stuck to the stand of auctioning the the 4.4 Mhz spectrum,' said the note adding that actual allocation of the radio waves were only done from April 2008.