The Congress’ political diatribe against the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Public Accounts Committee Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi on the 2G scam losses has begun to crumble in the wake of the shifting stand of RP Singh, a retired CAG official.
The Congress has been cock-a-hoop over two allegations levelled by Singh: he claimed that he was forced to sign the CAG report which estimated presumptive losses of Rs 1.76 lakh crore (among three other estimates) when his own figure was Rs 2,645 crore; he also claimed the Joshi had tried to influence the CAG’s final report on A Raja’s 2G scam.
This gave the Congress a huge political high as Singh seemed to be suggesting that the huge loss figures may have been prompted by a political nexus between the BJP and CAG. And that a small indicative loss was blown up by the CAG.
However, Singh has now backed off. Appearing in a CNN-IBN programme by Karan Thapar, he denied that he ever told The Indian Express that Joshi had tried to influence the CAG report, when the newspaper had specifically quoted him as saying so on Friday.
When Thapar pointed asked Singh about it, he backed off, saying he only meant "a member of the PAC" and not Joshi. He told Thapar: "This claim has been made, Mr Thapar, in the newspaper reports. I do remember there is documentary evidence where it is stated that a member of the PAC had asked to calculate losses using a particular formula. I cannot confirm the name, but I confirm the content (evidence)."
Pressed further, he denied he was changing his stand. He said: "I am not refuting. I am just saying one thing. I said, 'a member of PAC'. That stands corrected."
The Indian Express report, however, draws a different Joshi link to CAG – and this comes directly from the proceedings of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the 2G scam. Apparently, Joshi told then finance secretary Ashok Chawla, who claimed losses could not be estimated, that it should be very easy. At a PAC meeting on 30 June, Joshi apparently told this to Chawla: "Even a high school student can do it. We have been taught this. You sold me something at ‘x’ price. A part of it, I sold it at price ‘y’. ‘Y’ minus ‘x’ is what I have gained. Now, say, this is a certain percentage of the total. Raise it to 100 percent and I get the total amount which at that point of time is worth. That would have been the value which the government or the country would have received," Joshi told Chawla during the PAC meeting where CAG Vinod Rai and RP Singh were also present.
If at all Joshi had influence on the CAG report, it may have come from this well-minuted meeting, which can hardly be called an attempt to doctor the CAG report which came five months later. Congress members at the meeting could have offered Rai their own suggestions about the 2G loss calculation.
So, one leg of the Congress celebrations—that the CAG report was a BJP plot—has become questionable.
Today’s newspaper reports debunk another claim, and one presumption, of RP Singh: that he was "forced" to sign the CAG’s loss estimates, and that his own audit was overruled by his boss, Vinod Rai.
Shalini Singh, writing in The Hindu, demolishes Singh’s claim that he had no option but to sign the report using Singh's own testimony with the JPC. She says that Singh neither disagreed with the final report nor was he forced to sign it.
Asked by Gurudas Dasgupta and Yashwant Sinha if he was forced to sign, Singh apparently denied it. His reply was that he had rejected the presumptive loss figures, but he had still signed the report since it was a CAG report and not his alone. If he hadn’t signed it, someone else would have. So there was no coercion involved in his signing it.
Secondly, Shalini suggests that RP Singh tries to give the impression that his report was the only input into the final report of the CAG. His part of the audit involved the Department of Telecommunications, when there were other CAG wings talking to the finance ministry and the corporate affairs ministry. The final CAG report was thus not just about RP Singh’s part of the audit, but a multi-pronged effort over which he had no right to raise objections.
Says Shalini Singh in The Hindu: "... any objection that Mr Singh made would only be on account of the limited information that his three-member team auditing DoT would convey, since the final CAG report, as he informed the JPC, was a culmination of the audit conducted in three different places. This clearly left him in no position of authority or knowledge to cast aspersions on the cumulative report, its contents or final loss figures — a vital fact that Mr Singh has failed to reveal in his over two dozen newspaper and TV interviews."
RP Singh was thus one frog in one well with a limited view, and CAG, which had a better overall perspective, was in a better position to take a larger view of what the nation lost in the 2G scam.
For the Congress, it will be tough to rely on RP Singh to perpetuate the idea that the 2G scam was about the CAG's report, and not A Raja's gifting of spectrum, with the PM and FM sitting on their hands.