Apurported scam that scarred the previous UPA government and tarred sections of the media has now fizzled out in court. The acquittal of former Telecom minister A Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi and 31 others in the 2G spectrum allocation case by the Special CBI Court has once again revealed the vast gulf between public perception and court proceedings. It appears the prosecution made a complete hash of its case; the CBI simply failed to put up evidence that could stand the court’s scrutiny. The observations made by Special Judge OP Saini in his voluminous judgement are scathing, to say the least. “For the last about seven years, on all working days, summer vacation included, I religiously sat in the open Court from 10am to 5pm, awaiting for someone with some legally admissible evidence in his possession, but all in vain,” he has said. Castigating the CBI for having “miserably failed” to prove charges against the accused, the judge also pointed out factual mistakes in its “well choreographed” chargesheet. He further said the prosecution started the case with “great enthusiasm and ardour”, but by the end, it became so “directionless and diffident” that it was “difficult to find out as to what the prosecution wanted to prove”. These are strong words indeed; it is surprising that the quality of prosecution should have been so bad in a case once ranked by Time magazine as the world’s second-largest abuse of executive power after the Watergate scandal. After all, the alleged kickbacks in allocation of telecom spectrum and licences in 2008 to favoured parties at throwaway prices — were at first surmised to have cost the exchequer Rs 70,000 crore, later revised upwards to Rs 1,76,000 crore in a CAG report tabled in Parliament. The CBI came into the picture after the Central Vigilance Commission received a complaint from the NGO Telecom Watchdog. The Supreme Court in February 2011 asked the Centre to set up a Special Court to try the case, Raja and Kanimozhi among others were sent to judicial custody, and hearings began in November that year. The DMK’s image took a beating, reflected in its failure to win a single Lok Sabha seat from Tamil du in the 2014 elections.
In between, the Radia tapes controversy broke out, in which aspersions were cast upon some senior jourlists that they were part of the lobbying and influence peddling that had made A Raja the Telecom Minister and dictated his decisions. The jourlists defended themselves by maintaining that there can be no harm in engaging with potential sources to ferret out information. With the 2G scam adding to the Commonwealth Games, coal block allocation, Adarsh housing and other scams that occurred under the UPA’s watch, the Congress too paid a political price. Not surprisingly, former PM Manmohan Singh has now said the Special Court’s verdict proves that the “massive propaganda against UPA was without any foundation”. Fince Minister Arun Jaitley has immediately hit back, saying the Congress should not treat this verdict as some “badge of honour and a certification that it was an honest policy”. Jaitley has pointed out that the 2G spectrum in 2007-08 spectrum was not allocated on the basis of auction but on price discovery mode made in 2001, so that the ‘first come first served’ policy got converted to ‘first come first pay’. In fact, the Supreme Court — after finding the process of allocation to be flawed — by an order in February 2012, cancelled 122 telecom licences and spectrum allocated to 9 companies during Raja’s tenure. It had further ordered that the spectrum be auctioned. With the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate already deciding to appeal to Delhi High Court against the Special Court’s verdict, clearly the last has not been heard on this highly technical case — one in which even top telecom officials came across as confused about their own guidelines! But the Special Court judge’s admonition that public perception “created by rumour, gossip and speculation” has no place in judicial proceedings, should serve as a lesson to prosecuting agencies.