New Delhi: The 2G scam fallout keeps growing wider. The inquiry into the allocation of second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum is drawing an increasing number of top politicians, bureaucrats and other functionaries, both serving and retired, into its web. The latest to be named by one of the defendants in the case is Reserve Bank of India governor D. Subbarao.
Former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, the second accused in the 2G case, said on Wednesday that Subbarao and other officials should be named co-accused as they had cleared the controversial policy he executed. Subbarao was finance secretary at the time.
Behura’s counsel Aman Lekhi began his defence before a special court saying his client only implemented the policy decided by his predecessor D.S. Mathur, then member, finance, in the telecom ministry, Manju Madhavan, former telecom minister A. Raja, then finance minister P. Chidambaram and Subbarao.
This follows co-accused Raja having pointed the finger at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati during statements made by his lawyer Sushil Kumar in the special trial court.
Raja’s lawyer said in court on Monday that Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram were aware of the former telecom minister’s decisions and Raja’s actions thus had official approval.
Interestingly, Kumar on Tuesday denied that the former telecom minister had sought to implicate Singh in the case.
Behura and Raja, the first accused in the case, are in jail pending investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into alleged irregularities in allotting 2G spectrum and granting licences to cellular operators.
In court proceedings on Wednesday, Lekhi was opposing the framing of charges filed by CBI against Behura. He will continue his arguments on Thursday.
“No iota of evidence is (available) against the accused (Behura) in this case,” Lekhi told the court. “He was just implementing the policy decided by his predecessor. He joined only a week before the licences were awarded to telcos.”
Lekhi said Madhavan had flagged the issue of pricing of spectrum on 27 November 2007.
“She wrote to then telecom secretary (Mathur), then telecom minister (Raja), then finance secretary (Subbarao) and then finance minister (Chidambaram). A meeting was convened on 4 December 2007, and was attended by all the five. In the meeting, she remained silent. But Subbarao raised objections to then policy and said prices needed to be revised,” Lekhi said.
But Subbarao later withdrew his objections after Mathur defended the policy, he added. “Subsequently, a note was issued approving the entry fee policy which was signed by all of them.”
Lekhi said if a loss was caused to the state exchequer because of the low entry fee, the people who approved the decision too should be named as accused in the case. “How can the man who implemented their decision be an accused?” he asked.
An email sent to Subbarao’s office had not been replied as of press time.
Mathur refused to comment on the matter and Madhavan could not be reached for comments.
Madhavan opted for voluntary retirement after she fell out with Mathur.
Behura was arrested on 2 February for his alleged involvement in the spectrum case. Under the first set of charges filed on 22 April, he is accused of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and criminal misconduct by a public servant.
All the 14 people and three firms accused in the case will be given a chance to defend themselves before charges are framed against them. Raja ended his defence on Tuesday.
In a separate development, the income-tax department questioned Raja and others on Wednesday.
The joint parliamentary committee (JPC) which is also probing spectrum allocation, questioned A.V. Gokak, who was telecom secretary between November 1996 and August 1998. A committee member said Gokak was questioned about the telecom policy pursued by the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with regard to cellular operators.
On Thursday, JPC will question Gokak’s successor Anil Kumar, who was telecom secretary between August 1998 and February 2000.
The NDA government at the time unveiled a migration policy in June 1999 allowing cellular operators to move from the fixed licence fee regime to a revenue-sharing model and allowing divestment of equity.
PTI contributed to this story.