Sibal picks on CAG after 2G auction fails

HT Correspondent

New Delhi, Nov. 17 -- Telecom minister Kapil Sibal said Friday that policy decisions are best left to the government, taking potshots at the CAG's highest presumptive loss figure of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore in the 2G spectrum allocation in the light of the recent auction that failed to mop up expected amounts.

This happened on a day when the BJP accused the government of celebrating its own defeat.

The 2G auction was done in view of a Supreme Court order, after a controversy was created by a CAG report that the presumptive loss due to not auctioning the airwaves was up to Rs. 1.76 lakh-crore.

The government's tone and tenor as it addressed the media was one of the vindications of its stand, which had come under attack from the CAG, the media and the Supreme Court.

"Policy is best left to the government. If there is wrong implementation, courts should intervene. But if you bind down the government to prescriptions, results would be negative," Sibal said.

"Dynamics of the market change from year to year. We can't extrapolate figures, sensationalise them and destroy the hen that laid golden eggs."

He ruled that India's famous telecom story was interrupted, wondering whether there was any use of the government generating revenue but consumers not benefitting.

Recalling that the government had, in fact, revised the base price suggested by the TRAI - in line with a Supreme Court ruling that the body shall recommend the price - for the auction, Sibal said, "If we had stuck to (TRAI) recommendations, the results would have been worse."

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley took a dig at the government, saying, "Failure of the 2G spectrum indicates the direction this government has taken the economy. UPA ministers are happy that the auction flopped."

Union finance minister P Chidambaram disagreed: "There is no good or bad price. This is an auction-determined price depending on the economic conditions of today."

The government would be richer by Rs. 17,343-crore due to the 2G auction that was concluded on Wednesday, Sibal said. The five operators that won airwaves would pay Rs. 9,047 crore, while the rest will come as one-time fee from the incumbent operators in 18 circles for which bids were received.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar disagreed with the government's contention that the Rs. 1.76-lakh figure was wrong, saying the CAG had made estimates for the 2007 figure.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.