The CBI special court verdict on the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam may not be the last word. Judge OP Saini, one of the finest judicial officers, has gone by the material evidence put forth by the investigating agencies. He acquitted all the accused in the scam that shook up the entire telecom services sector, made and destroyed political careers as well as changed the governance discourse big time.
With 1500-odd pages judgment, the CBI special court found no malfeasance against those accused, including former telecom minister A Raja and Kanimozi and bluntly inferred that there was no scam by any stretch of imagination. But, the judgment seems to be limited to the shoddy investigations done by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Like in several other high profile scams, both the CBI and ED seem to be found wanting in building their case with “irrefutable evidence” that they claimed to have had. Then union minister Kapil Sibal had claimed that 2G-scam was a “zero sum game” and the revenue losses of Rs 1.76 lakh crore cited by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) were “notional.”
If one were to read the CBI court verdict along with Sibal’s infamous statement, telecom sector did not have any scandal and no sweet heart deals ever happened while allocating precious resources like spectrum to some companies.
The moot question was then why did the Supreme Court cancel all the 122 licences relating to 2G wayback in 2012? Did the Supreme Court not say that spectrum was frittered away in 2008 based on 2001 prices or valuation? Was the then CAG Vinod Rai fundamentally wrong or incompetent in inferring losses worth Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the national exchequer? Was it due to inefficiency or lack of evidence that CBI could not prove its own case on estimated Rs 33,000 crore irregularities?
Zero-sum theory did not stand to scrutiny in subsequent auction of spectrum across frequency bands. As the telecom companies bid aggressively to corner the scarce airwaves, huge revenues accrued to exchequer. Similarly, in coal scam there was denial of any wrongdoing in allocation of coal blocks to favourite industrial houses. The subsequent bidding held by Narendra Modi government did fetch the government over Rs 100,000 crores in revenues.
Former Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK chief late J Jayalalithaa was acquitted by lower courts in the highly profile disproportionate assets case. Eventually, Karnataka High Court jailed her in the same case after having found irrefutable evidence in corrupt practices. So there is a possibility that in the 2G scam, a higher court may review the CBI special court’s acquittal and the evidence provided by investigating agencies.
From political perspective, Congress-led UPA that was consigned to oblivion for perpetuating several scams got a huge reprieve of sorts. Fresh from a decent showing in Gujarat assembly polls, the party is bound to take umbrage under the CBI special court judgment to portray its innocence.
Political slugfest notwithstanding, cleansing the system of corrupt practices must continue unabated. Governance bar has to be raised in continuum by pursuing administrative reforms to protect, cherish and embellish freedom and independence of various constitutional bodies, including the CAG, judiciary, investigating agencies and other government organs.
Bringing in transparency in utilisation or allocation of resources like coal, gas, spectrum, water or land to private firms must become the priority. Recommendations of the multi-member panel headed by former finance secretary Ashok Chawla should be the starting point to bring about openness, transparency and competitive mechanism in dealing with resources.