New Radia exposes leave N K Singh, Tarun Das red-faced
14 December 2010
Among the latest tapes of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia's tapped phone conversations to become public, Rajya Sabha member N K Singh, a former secretary in the finance ministry, apparently calls petroleum minister Murli Deora ''incompetent'', and refers to civil aviation minister Praful Patel as having ''worked as a minister for (Jet Airways founder)Naresh Goyal.''
Singh also says surface transport minister Kamal Nath ''is literally on the road'' - referring to the fact that Nath got only the roads portfolio and not shipping, which went to G K Vasan.
Singh, who is deputy chairman of the Bihar Planning Commission, talks in detail about the ''spectacular decline of Kamal Nath''.
''He is on the road... literally on the road... well you can always hide it by saying highways are after all one black point of the government and they want to make up for it. But I think there is much more than meets the eye ... in Kamal Nath's case enough is enough ... and I do not think right now he needs another ATM. He has one going on for many years and that is enough for him,'' Singh is heard saying.
CII ex-chief calls Nath 'Mr 15 per cent'
The latest disclosures have also elicited an apology from the former head of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Tarun Das. The tapes seem to indicate that Das had a role of in getting Nath the road transport and highways ministry.
In one of his conversations with Radia in May 2009, when the process of cabinet formation in the current UPA government was still on, Das boasts of how he had lobbied for Nath to be given the portfolio. But at the same time, he accuses Nath of ''making money'' by skimming ''15 per cent'' from projects under his charge.
When Radia asks about the induction of some ministers in the current government and says Nath's allocation of portfolio was a ''bit shocking,'' the former CII chief mentor reveals that he had batted for Nath to get the coveted ministry. ''Between you and me,'' he tells Radia, ''I had suggested it for him ... I had suggested it big time.''
Accusing Nath's predecessor, T R Baalu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), of messing up highway development work during his five-year tenure in the previous UPA government, Das says, ''Because highways construction and road construction is really a priority… he [Nath] will do a good job. ''He is a doer,'' he asserts.
Accusing the minister of corruption, Das says Nath can still make his ''15 per cent'' on this. ''You can do national service and also make money … and do really something worthwhile here,'' Das says, to which Radia's responds, ''This is still an ATM [automated teller machine] for Kamal Nath.'' ''Absolutely,'' says Das.
Asked by The Hindu how he could speak of a minister doing national service if he was ''also making money'' and why he pushed for Nath's candidature despite harbouring apprehensions about corruption under his watch, Das said his ''15 per cent'' remark was ''irresponsible and unfortunate''.
''I regret that, he said. ''Loose talk. My public apologies to Mr Nath.''
Denying that he had lobbied on behalf of Nath, he said he perceived the minister as a person who has the ''ability to get things done.''
''Hence, in exchanging ideas with people about a wish list of responsibilities, I did talk about 'surface transport' for him.''
Referring to his use of the term ''big time,'' Das said he meant ''forceful.'' ''I really felt strongly he was the right man for the job. I was really happy he was allotted roads and highways,'' he added.
During the same phone conversation, Radia also talks about Anand Sharma being made minister of trade and commerce and asks whether Das knows him. ''I know him reasonably well ... not so well … we will have to brief him … educate him … he is new to this whole industry area ... but he is a trusted person,'' he adds.