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Tata spoke frankly, says PAC chief

Neena Vyas

Niira Radia “was not being direct and frank”

— Photo: PTI

Ratan Tata arrives at the Parliament House in New Delhi on Monday to appear before the Public Accounts Committee.

NEW DELHI: Tata group chairman Ratan Tata, who appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, was quite direct and frank in his response to questions from the panel members. On the other hand, corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, who also held the Tata Teleservices account for public relations, was evasive.

Mr. Tata appeared before the committee for three hours in the afternoon, while Ms. Radia gave her deposition for two hours in the morning after waiting for almost an hour before the PAC called her in.

The PAC has asked top company executives of four telecom firms to appear before it on Tuesday. They are Anil Ambani of Reliance Communications; Atul Jhamb, CEO of Atisalat DB Telecom India; Shamik Das, CEO of S Tel; and Sigve Brekke, Managing Director of Unitech Wireless.

Later, PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi told journalists that “Mr. Ratan Tata spoke frankly. He admitted that it was his voice on some of the tapes related to the 2G spectrum allocation scam. When he did not have some information that was asked, he promised to convey it to the committee within the next few days. And, finally, he also admitted to having written a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi [which was carried to him by Ms. Radia].”

Mr. Tata apparently told PAC members he had been a bit apprehensive of what might happen at the meeting, but found it had been conducted “professionally.” “We had a lot of questions and many things to discuss,” Mr. Joshi said, giving that as the reason for Mr. Tata's three-hour appearance.

If the PAC seemed satisfied with Mr. Tata — although Dr. Joshi said it was not for the committee to be satisfied or dissatisfied as its job was to get the facts — it was clearly not so with Ms. Radia. Mr. Joshi said: “She sometimes said I don't know, sometimes she said she didn't remember, she said some parts of the taped conversations [between her and some journalists, a few politicians and industrialists] were doctored. When further questioned she admitted she had heard some of the tapes. We thought she was not being direct and frank in her answers to our questions.”

He dismissed the official note put out by her public relations firm Vaishnavi Communications, which said: “Ms. Niira Radia appeared before the Hon'ble PAC. She extended her cooperation and offered clarification on all issues” — with a “what else could she have said?”

Mr. Tata and Ms. Radia were separately asked questions on lobbying with journalists and others to get Mr. A. Raja the Cabinet berth of Communications soon after the 2009 elections. Ms. Radia was reportedly also asked whether it was a practice in her firm to pay journalists for favourable news reports and for lobbying. Dr. Joshi refused to say what their responses were. “All that will be in the PAC report. You will have to wait,” he said. However, some other members indicated that Ms. Radia tried to take cover behind her profession as a lobbyist, indicating she was only doing her job, for which she was hired by her clients.

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