In a surprise move, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and managing director of the Bharti group, on Thursday appeared in Delhi's Patiala House Court in a case related to the allocation of telecom spectrum in 2002.
Earlier, the Patiala House Court had issued a summons to Mittal to appear before it on April 11. However, after Mittal had filed a plea in the Supreme Court against this, the apex court had asked the lower court to defer the summons till April 16.
Besides Mittal, Essar Group promoter Ravi Kant Ruia and former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh also appeared in court on Thursday. Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) judge O P Saini had named Mittal, Ruia and Asim Ghosh, then managing director of Hutch India, as accused in the 2G additional spectrum allocation case (during the National Democratic Alliance regime). After CBI had failed to identify any private individual as accused in the case, Saini had termed the three executives alter-egos of their respective companies.
On Thursday, Mittal, Ruia and Shyamal Ghosh were in court for just three to four minutes (during the hearing). According to the Supreme Court's decision, Saini adjourned the hearing on the case till April 16.
Senior lawyers involved in the 2G case said the appearance of the corporate bigwigs in court on Thursday might work to their advantage. "It was an inconsequential hearing and it was completely safe to come to court. They have simply shown their conduct is clean, which is very material to the case," said senior advocate Aman Lekhi.
In the past, there were cases in which the accused didn't appear in court, despite being summoned. Ravi Ruia, along with other accused, including I P Khaitan and Kiran Khaitan of Loop Telecom and Anshuman Ruia of Essar group, didn't appear in court for more than one hearing related to the Loop-Essar case. For Ruia, this was the second case in which he was summoned by the Delhi court.
Legal experts said by submitting to the jurisdiction, those who appeared on Thursday were contrasting themselves with those who had failed to follow the court's orders. "It is a way of showing one is abiding by the law, not running away from the matter," said a senior advocate.
In the case related to the allocation of telecom spectrum in 2002, CBI had alleged Shyamal Ghosh, in conspiracy with former telecom minister Pramod Mahajan, had abused his position as a public person and provided undue favours to a few companies. This, CBI alleged, led to a loss of Rs 846.44 crore to the exchequer. No other individual was named in the CBI charge sheet in the case.
Telecom industry executives referred to on Thursday's appearance in court by Mittal and Ruia as a "goodwill gesture." However, Lekhi argued such a term was "not in good taste" and was best avoided.
The counsels of the three accused telecom firms---Bharti Cellular, Hutchison Max Telecom (now Vodafone India) and Sterling
Cellular (now Vodafone Mobile Service)---were also present in court on Thursday.