Mr Kapil Sibal was made the Telecom Minister to clean up the mess that his predecessor, Mr A Raja, had created with the 2G Spectrum scam, but he has astounded everyone by declaring there was no scam at all and that the loss to public exchequer was "zero". If one takes this statement at face value, the ongoing inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation is meaningless as it is probing a racket that never happened. Not just that, the Central Vigilance Commission which took serious note of irregularities in spectrum distribution, too had wasted its time and energy to recommend a CBI investigation. As for the Comptroller and Auditor General, it conjured figures out of thin air and made a mountain of a molehill. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, before which the Prime Minister has offered to depose, should, going by the Minister's assertion, be doing something more creative than studying an imaginary matter. It is amazing that Mr Sibal should arrive at the incredulous conclusion even as various agencies are struggling to unravel the scandal. His aggressive body language at the Press conference where he made the statement as well as in various television channel interviews, where he sought to run down his interrogators, was a clear indication that the otherwise erudite Minister was bluffing his way along. Surely there are better ways for the Congress and the UPA Government to wriggle out of the situation — with nothing being more sensible than to admit wrongdoing and go about punishing the guilty. Even Mr Manmohan Singh, who sadly did not crack the whip when Mr Raja flouted his directive to freeze allocation till the contentious matter was sorted out, never rubbished the scam as non-existent. In any case, far from strengthening the Union Government's (and the Congress's) position, Mr Sibal's combativeness has further sharpened the conflict between the ruling dispensation and the Opposition, hampering any understanding before the Budget session commences in February. Moreover, his remarks have deepened the suspicion that the UPA is determined to bury the scam by letting loose irrelevant issues that can serve to divert attention from the primary contention. Powerpoint presentations and bluster, which the Telecom Minister has used to validate his outrageous statement, could not answer just one basic question: why was 2G spectrum allotted in 2008 at 2001 prices?
And that brings us to the core issue. Nobody is suggesting money was illegally taken out of the public exchequer, but that money which should have come in did not. The country lost valuable revenue because spectrum was sold in 2008 at 2001 market price. On that basis, the CAG estimated the loss at `1.76 lakh crore. By thrashing that estimate, Mr Sibal is not harming the opposition but the very institution of the CAG. The CAG arrived at the loss figures through the application of time-tested scientific models, and there is no reason to suspect that. Incidentally, the CAG had sought replies from the Telecom Ministry during the preparation of the report. Despite seeking (and getting) three extensions to do so, the Ministry failed to respond to the points the institution had raised, including the revenue loss figures. The Ministry was given yet another opportunity to do so just before the publication of the final report, and again it did not. Clearly, it had no defence, and in its arrogance believed no harm could come to it by brushing aside the institution's queries.