SC breathes down PM's neck

Spectrum scam: Bench asks why Manmohan took no action for 16 months

SC breathes down PM's neck

The Manmohan Singh government’s calculation that it would squirm out of the massive telecom scam by sacrificing A Raja has gone awry with the Supreme Court on Tuesday directly holding the prime minister responsible for keeping the scandal suppressed for 16 months and taking no action on it.

A day after Raja’s ignominious exit from the Union Cabinet, a Supreme Court bench of justices  G S Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly took strong exception to the prime minister’s “silence” over the scam, a point which the Comptroller and Auditor General’s(CAG) incriminating report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, also refers to.

The CAG report reveals that the “Department of Telecom, quoting extensively from a letter written by the Hon’ble MoC&IT (Raja) to the Hon’ble Prime Minister, stated that the Hon’ble Prime Minister was apprised of all the decisions taken by the DoT and the letter was acknowledged by the Hon’ble Prime Minister.”

With the prime minister now under fire from the country’s highest judicial authority, the Opposition parties continued to stall proceedings of both Houses of Parliament. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s luncheon meeting with leaders of all political parties failed to break the stalemate over the issue of conduct of smooth parliamentary business.

But it was the Supreme Court’s observation, which implied that despite having full knowledge of the scam, the prime minister did nothing to take any action, that sent shockwaves in Congress circles and emboldened an already strident Opposition that has pinned the UPA government down in the larger issue of corruption in high places. The apex court’s scathing observation came when it took up a complaint by former Union Law Minister Subramanian Swamy, seeking sanction for prosecution against Raja.

The court sought an explanation from the government as to why the prime minister did not act for long on Swamy’s complaint against Raja who has been found to have caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer. “The prime minister could have said that material on record was insufficient and declined the sanction,” the court observed.

After writing to Singh in November 2008, seeking sanction to prosecute Raja, Swamy received a reply from the Prime Minister’s Office on March 19, 2010 that the CBI was investigating the matter and it would be “premature” to decide on his application seeking Raja’s prosecution. Subsequently, Swamy filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court for direction to the prime minister to decide on his application seeking Raja’s prosecution.

On the PMO’s reply to Swamy, the Bench said: “We consider this communication from the highest constitutional body should have been carefully worded. We are examining the constitutional validity of this reply, it is troubling us.”

The Bench also observed that as a private citizen Swamy had a right under law to ask for sanction. “(The) sanctioning authority can say yes or no, but to say it is premature means you don’t have a right yet,” the Court said. 

The Bench asked the government to reply to the allegations of manipulation by Swan Telecom which was given UAS license at a price applicable in 2001. In this context, the Court observed that Swamy’s petition had provided specific instances of wrongdoing by the government. The matter will come up for hearing again on November 18.

Explanation sought

Expectedly, the Opposition parties targeted the prime minister, with the CPM saying that after the apex court’s observations, it became all the more important for the Prime Minister to come clean and explain the entire issue.

The CPM said that Raja too had said that he had kept the prime minister in the loop in respect of the policy decisions and changes he made before awarding licences to several companies which the CAG found to be dubious.

“After the Supreme Court’s observations, the prime minister is duty-bound to tell the nation about inaction on both counts – not responding to Swamy’s letter and not acting in time on divergent views of different ministries. He is presiding over a Cabinet. It is a collective responsibility,” BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said.

A gigantic fraud

*  85 firms suppressed facts, gave fictitious papers to DoT

*  Most of these companies were created barely months before licences were issued

*  Owners of these licences, obtained at throwaway prices, in turn sold significant stakes in their companies to Indian/ foreign firms at high premium within a short span

*  13 applicants were even ready with DDs for thousands of crores of rupees drawn on dates prior to the notification of cut-off date

*  Evidently, they had advance information which they fraudulently exploited

*  Raja ignored prime minister's, finance ministry's and law ministry's advice

*  Undue advantage to Swan Telecom. Its e-mail ID shown as that of a Reliance ADA group official

*  Spectrum allocated beyond contracted quantity to nine firms including Bharti, Vodafone, Idea, BSNL, Reliance and Aircel

*  Improper allocation of 2G spectrum led to loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore

*  Cut-off date for licence letters advanced
arbitrarily by a week

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