2G: The Scam That Wasn't?

India Business Journal - - CONTENTS -

The pros­e­cu­tion ap­pears to have mixed up a lot of is­sues, such as crim­i­nal­ity and wrong poli­cies, lead­ing to the case los­ing its fo­cus. The pros­e­cu­tion seems to have un­nec­es­sar­ily waded into is­sues, like loss to the ex­che­quer be­cause of not auc­tion­ing spec­trum. This is a mat­ter of pol­icy, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors can go nowhere if they try to pur­sue this mat­ter and link it up with crim­i­nal­ity.

In the end, the much-hyped 2G scam seems to have come to nought. Last month,

the Spe­cial CBI Court ac­quit­ted all the 17 ac­cused in the spec­trum al­lo­ca­tion scan­dal - in­clud­ing A Raja, the for­mer tele­com min­is­ter in the erst­while UPA gov­ern­ment, DMK leader M Kan­i­mozhi and 15 others.

Billed as one of the coun­try's largest scams, the 2G scan­dal, along with the coal scam, had come to rep­re­sent all that was cor­rupt and in­ept with the previous UPA gov­ern­ment. The then UPA gov­ern­ment had or­dered a CBI in­quiry into a bunch of cases, which to­gether were re­ferred to as the 2G scam. The CBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion was mon­i­tored by the Supreme Court to en­sure that there was no po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.

The CBI had al­leged that al­lo­ca­tion of 122 li­cences for the spec­trum had cost the ex­che­quer Rs 30,894 crore. It had ac­cused Mr Raja of tak­ing bribes to change norms ar­bi­trar­ily to ben­e­fit com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als. And then there was the CAG's fancy num­ber of Rs 1.76-lakh crore loss to the ex­che­quer, based on the 3G auc­tion price. These fig­ures are, at best, no­tional value.

The CBI was right in try­ing to link cor­po­rate deal­ings be­tween com­pa­nies con­nected to the DMK lead­ers and en­ti­ties that re­ceived 2G li­cences. But it fell woe­fully short of prov­ing that these deal­ings were crim­i­nal in na­ture. None of these al­le­ga­tions could con­vince the court. De­liv­er­ing the ver­dict, Jus­tice Saini pulled up al­most ev­ery arm of the gov­ern­ment that had played a role in the 2G cases. The judge was scathing in his at­tack on tele­com min­istry of­fi­cials, CBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors and even the high-level of­fi­cials of the PMO. On the CBI, Jus­tice Saini minced no words and ruled that "the pros­e­cu­tion has mis­er­ably failed to prove any charge".

So, how did such a high-pro­file case, which, in fact, played a ma­jor role in pulling down the UPA gov­ern­ment, fall flat in the court of law? The pros­e­cu­tion ap­pears to have mixed up a lot of is­sues, such as crim­i­nal­ity and wrong poli­cies, lead­ing to the case los­ing its fo­cus. The pros­e­cu­tion seems to have un­nec­es­sar­ily waded into is­sues, like loss to the ex­che­quer be­cause of not auc­tion­ing spec­trum. This is a mat­ter of pol­icy, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors can go nowhere if they try to pur­sue this mat­ter and link it up with crim­i­nal­ity.

The 2G scam hit the In­dian tele­com sec­tor very hard, and it is yet to re­cover from that shock. The Fe­bru­ary 2012 ver­dict of the Supreme Court can­celled 122 li­cences of eight tele­com com­pa­nies for be­ing part of a flawed al­lo­ca­tion process. The tele­com sec­tor has seen mas­sive up­heavals since then, with sev­eral firms ex­it­ing the busi­ness, thou­sands of jobs lost and crores of ru­pees worth of assets stuck in bad loans. With some of the com­pa­nies that had lost their li­cences now plan­ning to ap­peal against the apex court or­der, the af­ter­shocks of the ver­dict will con­tinue to re­ver­ber­ate for some time to come.

Fi­nally, the 2G scam al­ways had strong po­lit­i­cal un­der­tones. The BJP, which was then in the op­po­si­tion, was suc­cess­ful in milk­ing the scam and rid­ing to power. The CBI Court's ver­dict has now put the rul­ing BJP-led NDA gov­ern­ment on the back foot. The Congress Party and the DMK are now ar­gu­ing that their no-scam stand is vin­di­cated by the CBI Court's rul­ing. Po­lit­i­cal spar­ring can only go this far with jus­tice rel­e­gated to the back­ground.

The Cen­tre has de­cided to ap­peal against the CBI Court's ver­dict. A quick ap­peal and a swifter clo­sure to this con­tro­ver­sial case are in the best in­ter­est of the tele­com in­dus­try, the econ­omy and the na­tion at large.

2G scam: A com­plex case of no­tions and reality

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