Special CBI judge OP Saini’s acquittal of all the accused in the Rs 1.76-lakh 2G spectrum allotment case has to be accepted for the time being, but it certainly is not the end of the road for trial. Dismissing the court’s observation that the prosecution became “directionless and diffident,” the CBI has said it would appeal against the verdict. The Enforcement Directorate has also decided to appeal against the judgment. Then Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai’s sensational report calculating “presumptive loss” to the exchequer as a result of not auctioning spectrum at Rs 1.76 lakh stands exposed. It is the general perception that the 2G spectrum scam cost the Congress-led UPA government the 2014 Lok Sabha election just as the Bofors scam led to the defeat of the Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1989 election.
Perceptions and Saini’s judgment apart, one must not lose sight of the 2012 Supreme Court order which, on the basis of the CAG report and a bunch of public interest petitions, found the UPA government’s spectrum allocation “illegal and arbitrary,” and cancelled all 122 telecom licences allotted in 2008 by A Raja, Communications Minister belonging to the DMK, a major constituent of the UPA. The apex court said in its order that the material produced before it showed the Minister for Communications wanted to favour some companies at the cost of the exchequer. “We have no doubt that if the method of auction had been adopted for grant of licence which could be the only transparent method for distribution of national wealth, the nation would have been enriched by many thousand crores,” the Supreme Court observed.
The Special CBI court, on the other hand, failed to see any wrong doing by Raja, his officials and the telecom companies involved in the scam. “There is no evidence on the record produced before the court indicating any criminality in the acts allegedly committed by the accused persons relating to fixation of cut-off date, manipulation of first-come-first-served policy, allocation of spectrum to dual technology applicants, ignoring ineligibility of Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd and Unitech group of companies, non-revision of entry fee and transfer of Rs 200 crore to Kalaignar TV (P) Limited as illegal gratification.
Some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels,” Saini’s judgment said. Soon after licences were allotted, some of the beneficiaries sold their stakes to others under the pretext of transfer of equity or infusion of fresh capital from foreign companies and made windfall profits. Saini said that for all the brouhaha, there simply was no scam. As things stand, illegality has been established at the highest level of the judiciary but not criminality at the level of the special judge. It will be for an appeal court to resolve this apparent dichotomy.