New Delhi:A special court that is looking into irregularities in the allocation of additional 2G spectrum to older telecom operators has summoned Bharti group chairman Sunil Mittal and Asim Ghosh , former managing director of Vodafone India Ltd , to the next hearing of the case on 11 April.
The court took into cognisance the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) chargesheet relating to allocation of the additional spectrum, prior to 2008.
Former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh, and Ravikant Ruia, vice-chairman of Essar group, have also been summoned. Except for Shyamal Ghosh, CBI has not named the others as accused in its chargesheet.
Apart from the four individuals, the court has named Bharti Cellular (Now Bharti Airtel Ltd), Hutchison Max and Sterling Cellular (both part of Vodafone India) in the case.
CBI, which is enquiring into the case, had said it was not able to identify the telecom company executives involved in the irregularities. But O.P. Saini, the special court judge, said that as Mittal, Asim Ghosh and Ruia were in control of their respective companies at the time of the irregularities, “the acts of the companies are to be attributed and imputed to them. Consequently, I find enough material to proceed against them also.”
Mittal was chairman-cum-managing director of Bharti Cellular Ltd, Asim Ghosh was managing director of Hutchison Max Telecom (P) Ltd and Ruia was a director in Sterling Cellular Ltd, Saini noted in his order. “They were/are the alter ego of the respective companies,” he said.
Saini is exclusively trying the 2G spectrum allocation case, in which charges have been framed already against former communications minister A. Raja and other senior government officials and company executives.
Charges are yet to be framed against the seven (individuals and companies) summoned by the court on Tuesday.
In a 57-page chargesheet, CBI named the accused for the offences of criminal conspiracy under section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code as well as under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act as government officials are involved.
On 8 March, Saini had pulled up CBI for not naming any company officials in the chargesheet despite CBI prosecutor K.K. Goyal saying the agency had tried its best to find if any company officials were part of the conspiracy.
Asim Ghosh and Shyamal Ghosh could not be reached for comment while a Vodafone India spokesperson declined to comment on the grounds that the developments related to the company prior to Vodafone’s involvement.
Bharti said the government has on several occasions said in Parliament that the allocation of additional spectrum and the related spectrum usage charges have been done according to the existing policy. “We would like to reiterate that Bharti Airtel Ltd and its promoters have always practised the highest standards of corporate governance and accordingly view the charge sheet as an attempt to tarnish its high reputation, Bharti Airtel said in an emailed statement. “We will fight this charge sheet against Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel.”
The Essar group said it is consulting legal experts and will take up appropriate legal proceedings to challenge the order against Ravikant Ruia and Sterling Cellular. “The order of the Special Judge, however, purports to hold that Mr Ravi Ruia was ‘the directing mind and will’ of Sterling Cellular Ltd. Given the facts, such a conclusion is clearly incorrect and misconceived and it is not clearly from a reading of the order of the learned Judge as to on what basis the conclusion has been arrived at,” the company said in a statement.
The case relates to the allocation of airwaves to telcos for providing mobile telephony services. In 2002, the telecom ministry under Pramod Mahajan introduced the spectrum-linked criteria under which operators could get additional spectrum above the contracted 6.2MHz when they reached a certain subscriber base. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in a report on what is now known as the 2G scam, said this policy caused the exchequer a Rs.36,993 crore loss. Shyamal Ghosh was the telecom secretary at the time.
CBI, in its latest chargesheet, has not found evidence against J.R. Gupta, a former deputy director-general of the department of telecommunication, though his name did come up in the original first information report.
Shares of Bharti Airtel fell 4.74% to Rs.293.40 on a day the Sensex closed 1.48% lower at 19,008.10 points.