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Pranab to talk 2G only after a word with Chidambaram

After a 45 meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an angry Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee declined comment on the 2G controversy as it was sub judice and he first needed to talk to "our valued colleague" Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

Like Manmohan Singh, he too suggested that Sunday's meeting was essentially to brief the prime minister about his interactions in the US and not about a finance ministry note to the PMO on the then finance minister's role in the auction of the 2G spectrum.

"Unless I talk to the law minister, unless I talk to Mr. Chidambram, who is our valued colleague, unless I talk to the other party leaders and I go through all the papers, relevant papers, what comment will I make?," Mukherjee asked Indian journalists at a hastily summoned press conference in his hotel suite.

"And why should I make a comment on a domestic issue outside India? I am not fugitive. I am not leaving the country for all times to come," a visibly agitated finance minister said.

"Therefore, I will what I can say, what is permissible for me to say. I am not a lawyer. I have to take the expert opinion on it. Therefore, it would not be proper for me to make any comment on that."

"But as all of you wanted to meet me yesterday (Saturday) and I was a bit rude. That's why I thought I'll meet you," Mukherjee told journalists who had patiently waited for his arrival at the hotel, where he and the Indian delegation accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are staying.

"I am not going to give you any earth shaking news. I gave you trouble to come to apologise that sorry I can't give you anything beyond that."

In the note, the finance ministry says Chidambaram, one of the government's most high-profile ministers, could have prevented spectrum from being given away at throwaway prices by insisting on its auction -- implying that presumptive losses worth thousands of crores could have thus been avoided.

The note, which was apparently shown to Mukherjee and accessed by an application under the Right to Information Act, was prepared by a deputy secretary in the finance ministry and sent to the Prime Minister's Office March 25.

At the outset, Mukherjee made it a point to say that there was "no cutting, no cancelling" in coming to New York a few hours earlier to brief the prime minister about his interactions in the US and three major pending legislations back home.

He had come to New York "for a very simple reason as the prime minister is here" and besides the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting, he had to brief Manmohan Singh about the India-US Business Council, CEOs Forum and Investment forum meets.

"I thought I'll report to the prime minister as any action can't be initiated unless I talk to him," Mukherjee said.

But "If all of you are not interested, I am sorry I can't make any comment for the very simple reason that except newspaper clippings, I don't have any information.

"It's a matter which has produced a piece of paper, a note from the finance ministry to the PMO, obtained through RTI and has been placed in court."

Asked what he gave the prime minister, Mukherjee said: "I wished him and gave him a bouquet of flowers."

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