New Delhi: Former telecom minister A. Raja sought to convince the court hearing the case on the allocation of second-generation (2G) spectrum that if he was guilty of misconduct then others were more so, pointing specifically at attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati on the issue of a controversial press release.
Raja contended that his role in the allocation process had been entirely free of misconduct, and the specific charges of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were subsequently irrelevant.
The former telecom minister followed protocol and was not a policy creator, said his counsel Sushil Kumar, claiming that Raja was not trying to implicate the Prime Minister in the scam, as had been implied by the reporting of his comments in court on Monday.
Throughout his defence Kumar said Raja acted in accordance with the policies of his predecessors (Arun Shourie and Dayanadhi Maran) and under the advice of the Prime Minister and Vahanvati, then solicitor general. He also asked why the Prime Minister had not set up a group of ministers to vet Raja’s decisions, and suggested that then finance minister P. Chidambaram be brought to the court as a witness alongside Vahanvati.
“I followed (Vahanvati’s) advice and now I’m in jail, while he is sitting in the highest office. This is the justice in this country,” Kumar told the court, speaking on Raja’s behalf.
This line of argument picked up on Monday’s claim that Raja had been made a scapegoat by the CBI for the policies of his colleagues and predecessors. While he defended his intention to drive down costs of 2G services, he insisted that the Rs 1.76 trillion loss that the national auditor’s report claims was caused to the exchequer by his actions was purely “notional”.
“When was his obligation to auction?” asked Kumar. “Since 2003, all cabinet decisions are binding on everybody, why should he have auctioned?” He called the audit report legally illiterate and claimed that Raja’s decision on cut-off dates for the first-come-first-served applications were his own to make.
At this early stage, Raja does not need to reply to specific charges made by the CBI. Investigations are still under way and Raja may be cautious about revealing his defence in its entirety before charges are framed.
His defence touched directly on some but not all of the accusations, preferring the broader argument that Raja’s guilt would equate to the guilt of everyone involved.
Significantly, Kumar did not refer to the charge that Raja allowed Swan Telecom prior knowledge of his deadlines and enabled it to start readying bank guarantees and direct drafts that would be needed to complete the application. Nor did he respond to the charge of retrospectively altering the cut-off date, beyond stating that it was his intention all along to have a 25 September 2007 deadline.
He said further that the CBI’s claim that R.K. Chandolia stopped the applications as soon as Unitech’s had been received was “an absolute falsehood”, pointing out that Shyam Telelink was able to apply afterwards.
He spent some time, however, on seeking to exonerate Raja of the charge of forgery and alteration of documents. The CBI had accused Raja and Behura of deleting paragraphs of a press release that specified that in the case of two or more companies submitting letters of intent on the same day, the company that had filed its initial application first would get preference.
The CBI claimed that this was to favour Swan in the allocation process and delay the applications of other existing players. Kumar argued that Raja was merely deleting a superfluous clause, which he was within his rights to do.
“This is my document,” Raja claimed, speaking for himself at this point. “This is amended by me, written by me. I cut it, I’m not denying it, my signatures are there.”
Furthermore, Raja claimed, he had the approval of Vahanvati and he had informed the Prime Minister of his intentions. Vahanvati refuted this statement in an interview with NDTV later.
Kumar acknowledged that a money trail between DB Realty and Kalaignar TV existed but said it could not be construed as bribe money if the court accepted that Raja was not conspiring with Swan and was under no obligation to auction the licences.
Instead, Raja suggested that the companies that received the supposed loans should be punished for accepting the money at a lower rate of interest than was allowed.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on Tuesday demanded the resignation of Prime Minister and home minister Chidambaram. “We believe the Prime Minister cannot be given a clean chit on the matter. On moral grounds, he has no right to continue. To strengthen the fight against corruption, he should step down,” said NDA convenor Sharad Yadav, after a meeting at senior BJP leader L.K. Advani’s residence. “Whatever excuses the Prime Minister makes now, he failed in his duty as this cannot happen without his knowledge. The present home minister is, of course, fully involved in it and has been a partner in it. So both, especially Chidambaram, should resign immediately.”
The NDA’s demand came a day after the BJP sought the resignation of Singh and Chidambaram.
Ruhi Tewari contributed to this story.