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A judgment that shocked a nation’s conscience

Is 2G, the 21st century’s version of the Bofors saga? Remember, for all the noise about the Howitzer, we never saw the promised smoking gun. For 30 years the campaign of slander continued on and off, but never got proved. Of course, it forever besmirched the fair name of India’s original Mr. Clean, Rajiv Gandhi.

Last week the CBI court acquitted all, repeat all, the accused in the 2G scandal of any wrongdoing.  The judge even said that he has been waiting for seven long years for any conclusive evidence on the matter. A Raja whose name has become synonymous with the scam will now walk free. It is another matter that the case will go to the next court and finally land on the lap of the Supreme Court.  

The country’s then top auditor Vinod Rai had shot into fame that one of the possible loss figures was Rs 176,000 crore. On the lower scale, his report suggested that it could be 58,000 crore. The loss computations were presumptive, not actual, loss.  It was based on the argument that the first come first served policy was faulty. Incidentally the bidding during the BJP’s time under Pramod Mahajan for 1G was based precisely on FCFS. 

 

Did Raja pocket money?

If Raja took money for advancing the time for FCFS and for arbitrarily changing the condition precedent, he needs to go behind bars. But that’s something the courts need to decide and in saying there was not enough evidence. Justice Saini has indicated that there are no indications of wrongdoing. There the matter shall rest until a higher court reverses the order.

On a different note, Rai has been pulled up: “it was a ‘scam’ created by some people by exaggerating figures to ‘astronomical levels,’” the judgment noted. Rai’s subsequent elevation to plum posts and a Padma award had raised questions of his impartiality. I have always held that men who hold high constitutional offices should retire with grace while remitting such office and not accept positions and awards that are indicative of patronage. 

 

An error of judgment

There was the additional charge that there was a quick resale of the spectrum licence to a third party by the allottee company thus making a quick profit.  There is a specific history to this. In 2002 when the Centaurs Hotels were sold to a single bidder, there was a resale of one of the hotels at a profit of Rs 32 crore (40 per cent on purchase price) within a space of four months. Of course, no comments are to be passed on the other hotel which 14 years on is being sold at nine times the original price of Rs 153 crore. And without doubt, Arun Shourie is an honourable man, who perhaps committed an error of judgment in the case of the first hotel sale. 

The Raja verdict makes one thing  increasingly crucial.  TV channels must either be asked not to comment on matters sub-judice or get hauled up for outrageous propaganda.  

For instance, the argument that if the Supreme Court has cancelled the allotment, the lower court cannot say there has been no corruption. If that be so, why did the highest court want the lower court to hear out the case? I am not saying the UPA was right. I am merely saying that cancellation of allotment need not necessarily indict a party of corruption. Whether Raja took or did not take money is nothing that any of us know. 

In 2G one suspects that the higher courts may reverse Justice Saini’s orders, in the matter of the advancing of timing by A Raja. On the issue of FCFS, they are likely to go with the premise that these are executive decisions, best left to the government.

For those who think that they have lost faith in the judiciary there is a postscript. The trial court has held Bihar’s strongman Lalu Yadav guilty of corruption. 

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