Home Minister P Chidambaram was on Friday appointed the head of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on spectrum auction
that was reconstituted after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar declined the job fearing controversies
In a decision that was attacked by Bharatiya Janata Party, Chidambaram, a former Finance Minister, will head the seven-member group that also includes Defence Minister A K Antony, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, I&B Minister Ambika Soni, Law Minister Salman Khurshid, Minister of State in Prime Minister's Office V Narayanasamy and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
The ministerial panel is to decide on the minimum or the base price for auction of telecom spectrum vacated from cancellation of 122 licenses by the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Pawar, who earlier this week recused himself from chairing the group fearing he would be dragged into controversies, is not a member of the reconstituted EGoM, sources said.
Sources said no date for the meeting of the EGoM has been fixed yet.
The EGoM was last week reconstituted after Pranab Mukherjee, who was heading it, resigned as Finance Minister to contest the Presidential elections.
Reacting to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was not only regrettable and condemnable but downright scandalous.
"The Prime Minister is not concerned about propriety," he said while his party colleague Yashwant Sinha was sarcastic about the appointment.
However, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chaudhary strongly defended the decision saying opposition allegations against Chidambaram were not substantiated. The government has to govern and cannot be held hostage to opposition allegations.
Janata Party president Subramaniam Swamy also criticised the government decision saying it is an affront to the Supreme Court.
Chidambaram has been under attack from the opposition over the alleged fixing of license fee of 2G spectrum given out during the then Telecom Minister A Raja in 2008.
Pawar was last week named as the new Chairman of the ministerial panel and a meeting fixed for July 2.
But Pawar first postponed the meeting of the EGoM, which had last met on June 5, and then approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recusing himself.
The EGoM is to decide on a minimum or base price for auction of telecom spectrum or airwaves. The Supreme Court, which in February cancelled 122 telecom licences issued during the tenure of the then telecom minister A Raja in 2008, and asked the government to complete spectrum auction by August 31.
The EGoM in its last meeting on June 5 had finalised broad modalities for auction of spectrum including the schedule and the quantum of airwaves to be sold, but there was no decision on reserve price, terms of payment and annual spectrum usage charges.
It was decided that 8-11 blocks of spectrum in the 1800 Mhz band, and 3-4 blocks in 800 MHz band, would be put up for sale.
The government will conduct a simultaneous, multiple round ascending e-auction, details of which would be notified separately.
The Supreme Court has mandated conducting the auction before August 31.