CAG revelations in apex court put fresh pressure on Raja

CAG revelations in apex court put fresh pressure on Raja

New Delhi: There was fresh trouble for telecom minister A. Raja after the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) submitted before the Supreme Court doubled the initial estimated losses to the exchequer in the second-generation (2G) spectrum case to 1.39 trillion.

CAG maintains that Raja issued the licences against the advice of the Prime Minister, the finance minister, the finance secretary, the law minister and the telecom secretary. This was part of the detailed findings of the CAG investigation into the financial irregularities in the allocation of 2G licences and revealed for the first time.

Raja was not immediately available for comment.

The developments in the apex court could prove embarrassing for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance as the opposition has already upped the ante on allegations of corruption against the government.

The alleged scam principally emanates from the issue of the telecom licences at the 2001 licence fee levels in January 2008 as well as alleged arbitrary advancing of the deadline for licence applications among other issues. The licences also came with the spectrum needed to carry out mobile services.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) is being investigated for this by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the income-tax (I-T) department and the Enforcement Directorate.

CBI filed a first information report (FIR) against Raja in November 2009 after taped conversations conducted over a year between the minister and lobbyist Nira Radia supposedly revealed that there might “corrupt non-transparent deals with a few favourable parties" in the allotment of the spectrum licences. FIR also accuses other officials in DoT and private telecom executives.

Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer, moved the Supreme Court on 13 September asking for a court-monitored investigation arguing that the investigating agencies were deliberately delaying the progress of the investigation as Raja is a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a key member of the ruling UPA coalition.

According to the CAG report quoted by Bhushan and not refuted by the government’s lawyers, on 10 January 2008, Raja, through DoT, told all applicants at 2.45pm to assemble for the licences within 45 minutes. It was also decided that the licences would be issued on a first-come-first-served basis, which CAG stated was not a transparent process. Several companies, some of which were not telecom companies at the time, arrived at 3.30pm with demand drafts of around 1,600 crore, indicating that they had advance knowledge of the minister’s agenda.

The government and CBI, represented by solicitor general Gopal Subramanium and additional solicitor general Harin P. Raval, respectively, told the court that the investigating agencies would require six more months to make conclusions.

“Obviously we have to do a thorough investigation, but until we come to the end of the investigation we cannot act on any premature findings," Subramanium said. “The reason we need time is that this investigation is not restricted to India," he said. “A court-monitored investigation usually implies that an agency is not capable of doing its job," he added, while maintaining that if the court wanted to monitor the investigation, the government would comply.

Bhushan also told the bench that the CBI officer conducting the investigation was transferred after receiving the transcripts of the taped conversations between Raja and Radia. Similarly, the I-T department official who handed the transcripts over to CBI was also subsequently transferred. The transcripts reveal Radia had several conversations with Raja as well as with R.K. Chandolia, who was previously the minister’s personal secretary and is now his economic adviser. “From the conversations it appears that Nira Radia had some involvement in the telecom allotments," Bhushan told the court.

This claim, too, was not refuted by the government lawyers. Radia’s office said she was not available for comment.

The government told the court that CBI had completed the scrutiny of the documents and was now examining various persons involved. CBI had given the court a list of its progress in the investigation on 13 September in a sealed envelope. The court returned the envelope to the agency on Friday and listed the case for further hearing on 22 October.