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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A damning verdict

Saturday, 06 January 2018 12:13
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The changing alignments of the political parties engaged in power struggle in India have created a confusion on the issue of what is illegal from the administrative point of view may not necessarily be an offence from a criminal court's perspective. It is surprising that in 2012, the Supreme Court declared that the allocation of the 2G spectrum by the Congress-led UPA government was illegal and arbitrary exercise of power. The Supreme Court went on to cancel all the 122 telecommunication licences allotted to companies in 2008 during the tenure of A Raja as Communication Minister. And now with the trial court's en masse acquittal of all those named as accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the 2G spectrum allocation case, the claim that this was biggest scam in India's history lies in tatters. Moreover, the entire process of charging the accused with committing a scandal running into hundreds of crores of rupees has been reduced to mockery by the concerned authorities by the petty politicking of the successive regimes in the past ten years. Unfortunately, this process has been used and abused by the powers that be as a tool into setting off the political alignments of various groups in the country to their own benefit. Somehow, every ground that the CBI had adduced to prove that A Raja manipulated the first-come, first-served system to favour Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless, besides many others, and helped them make a windfall of profit by offloading their stakes, has been rejected by Special Judge O P Saini. The immediate fallout of the court verdict is that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, to which A Raja belongs, and its national ally, the Congress, will at last be in a position to shake off the perception that they were irredeemably beset by corruption. The Congress, in particular, is now in a position to reiterate that the spectrum allocation resulted in 'zero loss'; also, that its rule between 2004 and 2014 was not as scam-tainted as it was generally made out to believe, a perception that has impacted its electoral performance. Attention will now turn to Vinod Rai, whose sensational report as Comptroller and Auditor General, pegging the loss as a result of not auctioning spectrum at Rs 1.76 lakh crore, contributed to the perception that a huge scam had taken place. It is not yet clear, how he calculated the loss to the state exchequer. In the course of the ten-year long investigations that the CBI carried out, the strictures passed by the court suggest that this agency has been used by the governments of the day to settle scores with the political adversaries. Sometimes the same handle is used for securing alliances with the political parties if they do not toe the official line to the liking of the ruling party. In the light of this background, it has been argued by many that the figure of loss to the state exchequer calculated by the CAG was only notional. A Raja said that not revising the entry fee and not auctioning spectrum ensured cheaper telephony, increased tele-density and contributed to the sector's overall development in the entire country. His stand has undoubtedly been vindicated, but there is a lesson for everyone in the long 2G saga: public perception and audit reports cannot be the sole basis for criminal trials; investigating agencies must carefully sift the available material before deciding to prosecute the ministers and bureaucrats. Eliminating graft from public life is not only about making allegations stick during election time, but also about diligent investigation and efficient prosecution. The CBI's image has taken a beating, which has been described as a caged parrot, with the court calling it out for its waning enthusiasm in pursuing the case. There is a thick cloud over the BJP-led NDA government's commitment to fighting corruption. It may yet have a chance to redeem itself, as the CBI has said, it will appeal the verdict. An appeal is in order given the sweeping dismissal of the CBI's contentions, so sweeping that it dismisses what the prosecution said were suspicious quid pro quo transactions. It is said that the folklore about corruption is bigger than the actual incidence of corruption when political parties are out to settle scores within themselves. This could thus be true of the 2G 'scam' as well when mudslinging is happening between the ruling parties and the opposition.


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