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In a confrontation sparked by the embers of the 2G spectrum allotment scandal, the Department of Telecommunication has taken on the Comptroller and Auditor General and asked it to seek legal opinion from the Attorney General before declaring policy issues as “illegal”.
Responding to the government auditor’s review of major decisions taken by the telecom ministry during 2012-13, the DoT has also asked the CAG not to stray into commenting on policy matters.
The face-off is centred on the Rs 1,658 crore licence fees paid by telecom firms in 2008 for spectrum, the allotment of which ended up becoming controversial and was cancelled by the Supreme Court.
Telecom firms which had paid this non-refundable one-time entry fee for spectrum in 2008 were allowed by DoT to use the amount to pay for spectrum they won in the auction in 2012.
The CAG has held that this “is not consistent” with the auction process and the unified access service licence guidelines. The auditor has also said that this decision gave “undue benefits” to private operators.
DoT, it has said, should have treated the amount as a forfeit as the apex court had cancelledthe licences holding the allotment process irregular, and not adjusted it for 2012 auction payments.
But the telecom department has rebuffed the auditor, citing the decision of an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM).
“The EGoM considered the circumstances in which the set-off was to be allowed and the terms thereof. These were, according to the EGoM, consistent with the Supreme Court judgment,” the DoT has said in its response to CAG.
“The CAG cannot comment on and object to the matter of policy. In the event such a set-off is perceived to be illegal, then the appropriate course is to seek legal opinion from the Attorney General instead of rendering its own opinion in the matter.In absence of such advice, the CAG cannot on its own, seek to interpret documents and come to its own conclusions.
“These are not matters for audit to comment upon. All these decisions involve issues of policy and legality. Issues of policy cannot be dealt with by audit and issues of legality can only be dealt by courts.”
The EGoM, it is learnt, had decided that the “set-off” may be allowed on the earnest money to be paid by telecom firms winning spectrum at the 2012 auction.
Explaining the reasoning behind the EGoM