FM refuses to comment on letter to PM on 2G scam

A finance ministry document submitted to the Supreme Court said the telecom ministry could have gone in for auction of 2G spectrum licenses had the then finance minister P Chidambaram insisted on this

New York: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday refused to comment on a letter sent by his ministry to prime minister Manmohan Singh on the second generation (2G) spectrum scam, saying he cannot make any remark on the matter as it is 'sub-judice', reports PTI.

"The matter is sub-judice. I cannot make any comment on it. The whole matter is under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of India. We cannot make any comment on any matter that is sub-judice," Mr Mukherjee, who is here to attend an India-US investor forum, told reporters here.

Separately, while addressing Indian and American business leaders at a high-profile USIBC roundtable, Mr Mukherjee said the finance ministry's letter to the Prime Minister's secretariat is out in the open only due to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which is one of the many steps the government has taken to flush out corruption and make governance transparent and accountable.

He said in the recent years, lot of authority has been given to the people of India through the RTI.

"In fact today a sensational news item has come and it is through the exercise of the RTI. A note was sent by minister of finance to the prime minister. Somebody demanded through the use of RTI to have the copy of that note from the Prime Minister's secretariat and... fact of the matter is somebody has produced that as a piece of evidence in a particular case," Mr Mukherjee commented.

He said whether the letter can be used in such a manner or not "is a different story".

A finance ministry document submitted to the Supreme Court in India says the telecom ministry could have gone in for auction of 2G spectrum licenses had the then finance minister P Chidambaram insisted on this.

"The point I am trying to make is these are rights of the citizens. Today even an individual citizen can demand what is being written in the file of the government, what notes or instructions the minister is giving or departmental secretary is giving," barring cases involving defence and national security.

"But in all other areas, this right is being very frequently exercised," Mr Mukherjee said.

Mr Mukherjee gave an extensive overview to his audience that comprised corporate honchos from India and the US, of the steps the Indian government has taken to tackle corruption, in the wake of the recent spurt in scams that have launched citizen movements across the country.

He said the Indian government has been putting into place a number of legislations to "strengthen the system of accountability and transparency both at the legislative and executive level."

He was quick to add that the government has not initiated these measures merely in response to the 'agitation' that had engulfed the country but that these were in the works for quiet some time.

"It is not because of the agitation we have initiated these legislations. They were under the domain and under consideration of the government for quiet some time," he said, adding that one of such legislation is the Lokpal Bill which is to create an independent ombudsman having high authority to deal with all cases of allegations of corruption against civil servants, politicians, members of Parliament, ministers and the prime minister.

"That legislation is being worked out and is under the consideration of the standing committee. I hope we will get their recommendation in the next session."

Mr Mukherjee said the demand that the judiciary be brought within the purview of the Lokpal bill to tackle misdemeanour in the judicial system is being addressed.

The government is making a judicial accountability bill as well as establishing a National Judicial Commission in regard to the appointment of judges of the high court and Supreme Court and second in regard to misdemeanour in the judiciary.

"I would like to very frankly admit that this is a new dimension in our multi-party democratic system. For the first time in India we were confronted with a situation where a section of the civil society demanded that a particular bill of legislation is drafted by the government in consultation with them."

He said this was an exception to a rule whereby traditionally any legislation in the country was first initiated by the executive, followed by inter-ministerial consultations and once it got Cabinet approval it was sent to the Parliament. If the Parliament considered it necessary, it then sought opinion of the people at large.

Mr Mukherjee said the government responded to the legislation that the civil society group drafted. He himself was appointed chairman of the group, which had equal representation from civil society and government. The parties had a series of meetings and agreed on 34 out of 40 basic principles for the legislation.

"But apart from that engagement of the civil society, in an unprecedented manner, the government itself has taken initiative both administratively and legislatively to tackle the problem of corruption at high places," he said.

Listing the administrative measures taken by the government, Mr Mukherjee said a PM-appointed group had recommended that to deal with corruption allegations against government officials, 71 fast track courts should be established all over the country.

In respect of the sanctioning prosecution, sanction will have to be given within a specific time frame of not more than three months by the superior authority.

Further all cases pending now have to be regularly monitored and clearances have to be given so that appropriate disciplinary actions can be taken.

He added that along with the Lokpal Bill, five other legislations are being drafted. Other legislations to check corruption in the country include a citizen rights charter for every department and a whistle-blower legislation to protect those who detect the corruption.

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