PMO dismisses report on PM looking the other way in 2G case

New Delhi: The PMO on Sunday dismissed suggestions that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had sought to look the other way in issuance of controversial 2G spectrum licenses and said suggestions had been made informally to the Department of Telecom to ensure that there was level-playing field between the existing operators and new entrants.

The Prime Minister`s Office cited a communication of January 23, 2008 sent to DoT and insisted that it was in no way related to the "manner of grant of licence or charges for spectrum up to the threshold level".

"A number of unwarranted inferences have been drawn from this noting without considering the issue that was being examined and the context in which these directions were conveyed.

"In particular, an impression is sought to be created that the noting was in response to the Prime Minister being informed of steps being taken which he knew were inappropriate but he looked the other way," the PMO said in a statement as the government braced for an opposition attack on 2G issue in Parliament`s Monsoon Session commencing tomorrow.

The clarification came in the wake of a media report regarding a noting of the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister conveying the directions of the Prime Minister on a matter relating to the allocation of spectrum.

The noting in question was recorded on January 23, 2008 and stated that `PM wants this informally shared with the Department (of Telecom). (He) does not want a formal communication and wants PMO to be at arms length.`

In its clarification, the PMO said the noting was on a note proposing consideration of an approach which included fixing of a `threshold` level of spectrum that each operator must have in order to function with a minimum level of efficiency.

The January 23, 2008 note also said that "existing operators holding spectrum above the threshold level may be allowed a certain amount of time to raise the subscriber levels to reach full utilisation of spectrum, failing which the excess spectrum may be withdrawn.

"New operators may be allotted spectrum only up to the threshold level on payment of the normal fees.

"The balance spectrum may then be auctioned among all those who hold spectrum up to the threshold level," the PMO statement said.

It said it was clear from the note that the "approach was intended to create a level-playing field between existing operators and new entrants. It did not deal with either issues relating to manner of grant of license or charges for spectrum up to the threshold level."

The proposal of the Prime Minister`s Office was to forward these suggestions to the Department of Telecom for further consideration on the basis of individual consultations with the main players and TRAI, the statement said.

The PMO noted that "it was well known at that time that there were conflicting interests between existing operators and new entrants. The Prime Minister felt that this matter required detailed examination and deliberation by the Department of Telecom in consultation with TRAI and others."

The Prime Minister had "felt that, under the circumstances, it was not appropriate for the Prime Minister`s Office to pronounce on the matter till the subject had been carefully considered by the administrative ministry in consultation with TRAI and other concerned departments," it said, adding, "Therefore, it was sent as an informal suggestion to the Department of Telecom for consideration."

This, the statement said, "clearly brings out that the noting under question can in no way be construed to mean that the Prime Minister or his office looked the other way on matters relating to the grant of licence or spectrum charges etc.

"It related solely to the manner in which the approach summarized above should be conveyed to the Department of Telecom to be considered on merits without being viewed as a direction from the Prime Minister or his office."