“Rumour, gossip and speculation” was what the 2G spectrum case was based on according to special judge OP Saini when he read out the judgment that acquitted all 35 accused including former Telecom minister A Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi. The court criticized the prosecution for failing to turn up evidence and prove any of the charges. The special judge overseeing the case since 2011 said the nearly seven year wait to turn up evidence was in vain.
All citizens shd read Judge OP Saini's judgement on 2G case. It appears as nothing but a media driven political drama that sought to create an atmosphere of criminality around policy choices and a crafty manipulation of perceptions to bring down the UPA.— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) December 22, 2017
Just went through key parts of the mammoth 2G order. Key highlights: judge says “some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few facts. A huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none”.— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) December 21, 2017
A Raja, felling vindicated after the verdict said in part, “I brought a revolution in the telecom sector. It is not unknown in history that a person who did revolution is tainted as a criminal”. Kanimozhi said the verdict ended a six year period that was “harrowing and excruciating”. She added “I was made an accused just because I was a director in a company and for only about 20 days, where I had not attended even a single board meeting and where I had not signed a single document”. DMK president MK Stalin said in part, “Now, all the accused in the case being acquitted is a great reprieve for us, especially for the DMK that committed no mistake”. The scam dates back to 2008 when telecom companies were allocated licenses and spectrum. The allegations made were that the cut-off dates for submissions from companies were altered to help certain companies such as Swan and Unitech who were initially ineligible were allowed to participate and a certain amount of money was given to Kalaingar TV which is promoted by DMK leader MK Karunanidhi whose daughter is Kanimozhi. The CAG report stated that due to the irregularities, the losses amounted to 1.7 lakh crore. The CBI made an arrest in 2011 and the following year, the Supreme Court ruled the allocation of licenses and spectrum to be unconstitutional and cancelled 122 licenses. The Hindustan Times editorial states that the judgment must be taken at face value and not be conflated with the apex court order of cancellation of licenses – “In his (special judge) order, he has been severely critical of the prosecution’s inability to do so — which, once again, asks the same questions of the investigative processes of the CBI and the ED that have been asked before”. “The apex court’s decision was not based on whether or not there was a criminal conspiracy to defraud the exchequer, but on irregularities it saw in the process by which licenses and radio waves were allotted”. “Irregularities and ad-hocism do not a scam make, which is why Saini’s order has to be taken at face value. It is now up to the CBI and the ED to, on appeal, make a better case in the High Court than they did in the lower court”. The CBI presented 155 witnesses to the court. Some of the notable names that were deposed include Dayalu Ammal wife of Karunanidhi, ADAG chairman Anil Ambani and his wife Tina, former governor of the RBI Dr D Subba Rao, corporate lobbyist Niira Radia among others. Journalist Sanjiv Shankaran, in a column for the Times of India writes that the nation’s civil servants are a weak link in its governance in light of the prosecution failing to turn up evidence – “The controversial allocation of 2G spectrum to telecom operators in 2008 has for a decade served as an exemplar of an alliance between crooked business interests and corrupt politicians. More than any other controversy, the 2G case came to symbolize the permissiveness of UPA government”. “Poor drafting of legislation has been the bane of India’s legislative framework. The telecom rules were a particularly appalling case. Definitions of critical terms such as “associate companies” are not clear”. “Unsurprisingly, the prosecution is shown up in poor light. Their incompetence is another incalculable cost imposed on society. CBI’s performance needs closer scrutiny. Given their track record in high profile cases, they represent another weak link in the governance chain”. The news and the noise around the scam plagued the Congress before the 2014 elections and were effectively used by the BJP in the course of the campaign to bring them great success. The stain from this may still be on the Congress, but they may be able to use this in their narrative, perhaps using the judges’ own words in stating that no evidence was provided by the prosecution. Whether it will be enough to swing voters to their side remains to be seen. The Times of India editorial looked at the system and how the scandal affected the economy, governance and politics – “It was hard to miss the neat mix of politicians, bureaucrats and corporates in CBI’s allegations of crony capitalist nexus. But yet again CBI has come a cropper in producing evidence that could withstand judicial scrutiny”. “Auctions are a good way for transparently allotting spectrum and should have been adopted much earlier. But the obsession with revenue maximization through auctions at high base prices rejects the possibility of organic growth through lower tariffs, greater capital investment”. Valid questions can be raised on the role the CAG Vinod Rai and his report in estimating the losses. Was Kapil Sibal’s right in his zero-loss theory? After the Supreme Court cancelled the licenses, A Raja was in jail on the charges of forgery and criminal conspiracy. A special CBI court was not happy with the evidence provided which alleged that some of the licenses had been allocated to applicants who did not give complete information and submitted fake documents in order to get access to the spectrum. The Hindu editorial stated that the verdict calls into question the political, investigative narratives of the past decade – “What is illegal from the point of view of administrative law may not necessarily be an offence from a criminal court’s perspective. With the trial court’s en masse acquittal of all those arraigned by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the 2G spectrum allocation case, the claim that this was the biggest scam in India’s history lies in tatters”. “The CBI’s image has taken a beating, with the court calling it out for its waning enthusiasm in pursuing the case. There is a cloud over the present government’s commitment to fighting corruption”. In a letter to DMK head Karunanidhi, A Raja writes in part, “You preserved me in snow. You stood behind me. I am waiting to hear your words”. With an appeal certainly coming, time will tell how the BJP, Congress, DMK and the AIADMK will use this verdict and all that has come before it.
More columns by Varun Sukumar