Question mark over graft cases

The surprising judgement of a  Delhi  court acquitting all the accused in the 2G case has put a big question mark on the fate of other high-profile corruption cases. The decision can have serious repercussions. The manner in which Special Judge O P Saini dealt with and discarded all the documentary and oral evidences leaves much to be desired.

The manipulation in the cut-off date and the first-come first-served policy, the allocation of spectrum to ineligible construction companies and the transfer of Rs 200 crore to Kalaignar TV by one of the beneficiaries were some of the circumstances that were crystal-clear. In somewhat shocking remarks, the judge said everybody went by "public perception, created by rumour, gossip and speculation".

In contrast, the clinching evidence, owned up by witnesses all along, has been ignored by the judge, like the transfer of Rs 200 crore from Dynamix Realty to Kalaignar TV. He says the transaction may have unusual features and may suffer from deficiencies but it may not be illegal gratification. The judge says that things remained "in the realm of conjectures and surmises" as there is no direct or circumstantial evidence to link the transfer to former telecom minister, A Raja, who is at the centre of the scam. This, despite the fact that money was subsequently returned after the CBI started probing it. The court, however, finds lack of chronological proximity in proving "give" and "take" - spectrum allocation was approved by Raja on  August 26, 2008,  while the first tranche of Rs 10 crore was transferred to the DMK-family run Kalaignar TV on  December 23, 2008.  

The court also does not find any conspiracy in non-revision of entry fee to award spectrum in 2008 at the price fixed in 2001. Neither did it discover any merit or seriousness in the objection raised by the Ministry of Finance on non-revision of entry fee. It says, "after  December 17, 2007, MoF went into silent mode on the issue." About the working of officials, it said, "when the time is appropriate, they would keep mum and when things reach a definite stage or generate heat, they would immediately start raising unnecessary objections, creating trouble for others that too without reaching any final conclusion (sic)". Besides, the trial court also discovers "absolutely no material" that indicated any recommendation for auction of 2G spectrum. Surprisingly enough, the court also says nobody understood that Trai had recommended revision of entry fee.

With regard to the role of other officials, the trial court finds that a long note was sent by top officials Pulok Chatterjee and T K A Nair to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, but the same did not talk about changed criteria - from date of application to date of payment - and the issue of new licences.

"The file was placed before then PM on  January 7, 2008. It is not clear from the record if this note was seen by him or not." However, the court adds, "it is clear that somebody from the PMO had given a given a go-ahead to the DoT for issue of new licences and most probably it was Pulok Chatterjee himself." Five days after the letters of intent were issued and controversy broke out, the then PM was left with no option but to express his resentment.

The trial court, however, concludes that the facts were misrepresented to Manmohan Singh by the officials of the PMO, and not by Raja. With all these materials, the question arises, even if the CBI did not rope in those top officials, what prevented the trial court from summoning them either as witness or as accused, while exercising its power under Section 311 and 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

But Judge Saini says he religiously sat in the open court between  10 am and 5 pm  for seven years waiting for anyone at all to come with legally permissible evidence, but in vain. Interestingly, the judge goes further to say some people created a scam by "artfully arranging selected facts" and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels, perhaps referring to the CAG report's Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss estimate.

But to say a "huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none" is a rather loose comment. Had there been no substance at all in the case, the apex court would not have cancelled 122 licences in February 2012 and it would certainly not have directed the setting up of a special 2G court to try the accused. If Raja as a minister and public servant did not fail the nation, who did? How does one explain the Rs 65,000 crore earned in the subsequent 2G airwaves auction?

In his 1552-page judgement, Judge Saini concludes that there is no criminality at all in the acts of the accused. His finding that the charge-sheet itself was drawn mainly on "misreading, selective reading, non-reading and out of context reading of the official record", begs an obvious question - why then did the court waste seven years by starting trial on the basis of that very charge-sheet.

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