New Delhi: The second generation (2G) spectrum case continues to plague the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as public interest petitioners relaunched an attack against P. Chidambaram, former finance minister and current Union home minister, before a special bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), the main petitioners in the 2G cases, claimed that Chidambaram had opportunities to prevent the actual award of licences and spectrum to telecom firms even after former telecom minister A. Raja had illegally distributed the letters of intent (LoIs) through the department of telecommunications (DoT) on 10 January 2008.
The actual award of licences started on 27 February 2008, and the first batch of spectrum was granted on 22 April 2008.
P. Chidambaram. PTI
A newly formed bench comprising justices G.S. Singhvi and K.S. Radhakrishnan were told that Chidambaram overruled officials within the finance ministry and allowed Raja to price spectrum at Rs 1,651 crore, which was the price discovered in 2001.
“There was a gap of 47 days between the issue of LoIs and the actual issue of licences,” Bhushan said.
“In between this there is lots of correspondence between the finance ministry and the DoT on whether spectrum can be granted at 2001 prices. Throughout this time, finance ministry officials kept saying you cannot give away this spectrum.”
Bhushan said Chidambaram not only priced the spectrum lower than advised by his ministry, but telecom firms which had received additional spectrum over and above start-up spectrum, were let off the hook.
Bhushan read from a 15 January 2008 letter that Chidambaram had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which the former finance minister said the payments not received from telcos for additional spectrum should be treated as a “closed chapter”.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had valued the loss from additional spectrum at Rs 36,993 crore in 2010.
On 2 February, the court cancelled 122 telecom licences that were issued by Raja on 10 January 2008, calling the whole process illegal.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is still investigating parts of the case under the supervision of the court, said if Bhushan’s arguments were to be believed, it would appear that the investigating agency had not done its job properly.
“This amounts to saying that the CBI did not properly investigate the case,” counsel K. K. Venugopal said on behalf of the agency.