The 2G spectrum scam was the prime symbol of big ticket corruption in India. The Comptroller and Auditor General had pegged the notional loss to the state exchequer owing to the scam at a mind-boggling and unheard of Rs 1,76,000 crore. Even a nation, where corruption across all strata is accepted as an unavoidable fact of life, was stunned by the audacity of this scam.
No wonder, even the venerated Time magazine termed it as the biggest scam in the history of independent India and it came second on the Time’s list of top abuses of power, next only to Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
It’s this scam that formed the fulcrum of then Prime Ministerial aspirant’s campaign 2014. The high-octane campaign had succeeded in making the Congress synonymous with corruption, thereby catapulting the Modi-led government to power.
But suddenly, a stunning judgement that came on Dec 21 turns everybody’s belief topsy-turvy. The judgement now tells us that the biggest scam after all was about, “some people creating a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels.”
If that wasn’t enough, Judge O P Saini also adds that he has “absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any of the accused, made in its well-choreographed chargesheet. There is no evidence on the record produced before the court indicating any criminality in the acts allegedly committed by the accused persons.”
So, was there a scam at all or was it just about nobody being interested in proving it?
The Scam We Believed
The scandal that traces its origins to 2008 is about then Telecom Minister A Raja, representing the DMK in the UPA government, selling 122 2G licences on a first-come-first-served basis. It was alleged that Raja favoured a few companies in return for kickbacks.
Resultantly, the CBI lodged an FIR on October 21, 2009, against unknown officers of DoT, unknown private persons and firms.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), headed by Vinod Rai, in its scathing report released in November 2010, stated that the licences were issued to telecom operators at throwaway prices leading to a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer. It also pointed out that licences were given to ineligible applicants, who suppressed facts, provided fictitious documents and resorted to fraudulent methods. It added that the new licence owners sold off major stakes at a high premium within a short time. This premium earned was estimated to be the true value of the spectrum.
The alleged scam rocked the UPA government and Raja resigned. In April 2011, the CBI filed its chargesheet against Raja and others, alleging that there was a loss of Rs 30,984 crore to the exchequer. The Supreme Court scrapped the allocation of licences on February 2, 2012.
Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others were tried under provisions of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Enforcement Directorate also filed a second case on the alleged laundering of Rs. 200 crore bribe money against Raja, Kanimozhi and 17 others. The third 2G case was against the Essar promoters — Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia — and six others, alleging they had cheated the DoT by using Loop Telecom as a “front” to secure 2G licences in 2008.
After Seven Years
The magnitude of the alleged scam was so big that everybody was awaiting exemplary punishment. The hopes were especially high, because the man who had led the chorus against the wrongdoing, was at the helm. So, it was only a matter of time before justice was delivered.
But Special CBI Judge O P Saini, whose court came into being on March 14, 2011, for hearing 2G cases exclusively, stunned all with his judgement on December 21, 2017. The verdict acquitted and granted a clean chit to A Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi and all other accused because the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove the charges.
The 15 other accused allowed to walk free include former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura, Raja’s erstwhile private secretary R K Chandolia, Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd MD Sanjay Chandra and three top executives of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group — Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair. Raja and Kanimozhi were let off in the second case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate and the court also acquitted Essar Group promoters Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia and six others in the third case. The three cases decided by the special court had a total of 35 accused including several companies.
Where’s the Truth
If one were to go by the judgement, there wasn’t enough to prove the alleged scam. Judge Saini, in his judgement makes it a point to add that “for the last about seven years, on all working days, summer vacation included, I religiously sat in the open court from 10 am to 5 pm, awaiting for someone with some legally admissible evidence in his possession, but all in vain. Not a single soul turned up. This indicates that everybody was going by public perception created by rumour, gossip and speculation. However, public perception has no place in judicial proceedings.”
This obviously leads us to the next question – was a public perception created? Were things exaggerated to reap political dividends? Was it a choreographed scam? Did large parts of the media just play along instead of looking for facts? And what about the findings of the CAG?
Or is it simply about shoddy investigation by our premier agencies, who did not put their heart into it? If it is so, why was this allowed to happen? This critical case was meandering along for over six years and the way it was progressing was there for all to see, and yet why was there no seriousness? If there is “no legally admissible evidence” even in such a high-profile case, there can only be more questions than answers. Something is rotten in the state of India.