Speaking to the media after a meeting of the committee, chairman Murli Manohar Joshi said he had been “authorised by members to take appropriate steps to ensure that such instances do not recur”. “The sense of the committee,” according to him, was that Sibal’s remarks were “improper, against propriety and an attack on the dignity of PAC and CAG, which is not good”. He said if the minister wished to make any suggestion, the fora of the committee as well as the CAG were available to him.
Joshi refused to spell out his future course of action in the light of the “sense of the committee”. “I will see (later),” he said. He said in reply to a question that members expressed their “concern” over Sibal’s remarks, but maintained that there was no suggestion or proposal before the committee on Wednesday to call Sibal for seeking a clarification about his remarks. He was non-committal when asked if it was a breach of privilege. However, he said the PAC “would consider what steps we have to take” to ensure a recurrence of such incidents is avoided.
Defending the CAG report, Joshi said the government auditor had never claimed his estimates on presumptive losses to the exchequer were final. He pointed out that the CAG had only mentioned three different figures based on three different models to calculate the presumptive loss. Sibal had described as “utterly erroneous and without any basis” the estimated loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore arrived at by the CAG while allocating the 2-G spectrum to telecom operators.
Regarding the offer of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appear before the PAC, he said the committee would take an appropriate view at an appropriate time. “I cannot spell it out here,” he said. Joshi denied the allegation that the CAG report was leaked in advance. “No member complained of a leakage at the meeting,” he said in an obvious reference to the Congress members on the panel.
In the meanwhile, the CAG in a separate statement dubbed public comments on its report “highly improper”. “Making public comments on the matter which is being considered by a Parliamentary Committee is highly improper and may even amount to contempt of the House,” the CAG said. The CAG response came in the wake of Sibal’s remarks, followed by their endorsement by Congress spokesman Manish Tewari. “The CAG, after holding a live press conference on 2-G spectrum issue, is now advising MPs not to comment on it because the matter is being considered by PAC,” Tewari said.
The CAG argued that according to Rules of Parliamentary Procedure, “When any matter is under consideration of a Parliamentary Committee and the Committee is holding its sittings for that purpose, no person, including a Member of Parliament, should make or publish a statement or comment about that matter”.
The CAG said it did not respond to the public statements or to media reports as the report was under the consideration of the PAC. “It is in obedience to this Rule (para 1.12 of the Rules of Parliamentary Procedure) the CAG, who is an important adjunct of the PAC and attends all its meetings, did not make any comment on media reports on comments made by others on the report of the 2G spectrum allocation, as it was under discussion of the PAC,” it said.
The PAC meetings on the 2G Spectrum Audit Report began on December 27, 2010 and are continuing. While placing the entire issue in “proper perspective”, CAG said that under Article 151 of the Constitution, the auditor submits its report to the President who causes them to be laid before each House of Parliament. The audit report on the issue of licences and allocation of 2G spectrum by the Telecom Department was placed in Parliament on November 16, 2010. “Once the report has been placed on the Table of the House, it becomes a public document,” CAG said, adding thereafter its officials held a press conference to explain the findings to the media.
The practice of holding press conferences after the submission of the report, it added, was being followed since 1980s. “In this case, the press conference for briefing the media on the audit report on the issue of licences and allocation of 2-G spectrum was held by Rekha Gupta, Dy CAG in the office after 3 PM on November 16, 2010, itself, after the report was placed in Parliament,” it said. The report, CAG added, was simultaneously placed on the official website of the auditor.