Home >industry >telecom >Radia tapes: SC tells CBI to probe 14 issues

New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate 14 specific issues based on the controversial contents of the transcripts of tapped conversations between lobbyist Niira Radia and bureaucrats, politicians and journalists, in a move that could further embarrass the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

This week, the Prime Minister himself has come under fire after former coal secretary P.C. Parakh, who has been named in a first information report (FIR) by the CBI on alleged irregularities in the allotment of coal mines along with Kumar Mangalam Birla of the Aditya Birla Group, said that while he believes he did nothing wrong, if the CBI wants to look into the issue, then, apart from him and Birla, the agency also needs to involve others who were part of the decision.

The Prime Minister was overseeing the coal ministry at the time of the allotment of a mine to Hindalco Industries Ltd, an Aditya Birla Group company. A lawyer, M.L. Sharma, on Thursday moved the SC to direct the CBI to include the Prime Minister in the FIR, PTI reported.

On Thursday, a two-judge bench of justices G.S. Singhvi and C. Nagappan hearing the 2G spectrum case expressed concern over the “element of criminality" disclosed by the Radia transcripts and ordered a probe. A preliminary inquiry has been ordered and the CBI asked to submit its report in two months.

The Indian Express newspaper on 23 August reported 16 “issues" flagged by the CBI for elements of criminality. These, as reported by the newspaper, include Tata Motors Ltd’s attempts to procure a bus contract from the Tamil Nadu government; appointment of Pradip Baijal as chairman of the pipeline advisory committee of the Petroleum; and Natural Gas Regulatory Board and the demand for bribes by former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda from Tata Steel Ltd. The other issues reported by the newspaper included alleged corruption and malpractice in judiciary and tribunals; allowing coal diversion from the Sasan ultra-mega power project in Jharkhand; link between former director general of hydrocarbons V.K. Sibal and Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL); and fudging of records by Reliance Communications Ltd (R-Com) to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and BSE, among others.

Radia was, at the time of her conversations, a lobbyist and representative for the Tata group and RIL.

Spokespersons for Radia and the CBI declined comment.

While spokespersons for RIL and the Reliance Group, which controls R-Com, declined comment, a Tata group spokesperson didn’t respond to a voice message left on his cellphone. Questions emailed to Tata Steel late in the evening had not been answered as of press time.

“Tata Motors is committed to following all due processes in all our operations and bids. We are not aware if any of our dealings are a part of any investigation ordered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. We will examine the order on receipt. In case there is an issue to be checked or clarified, we will fully cooperate with any investigations, as may be needed," a company spokesperson said by email.

Sibal denied the allegations and said: “I had professional relationship with all the operators and RIL was no exception."

Baijal said: “I am not aware of the court’s directive, but I was appointed chairman of a committee of Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board. I went and attended an introductory meeting and I found that there could be a conflict of interest in the future and hence resigned. So I didn’t work for the committee."

The court has been supervising the CBI’s investigations into suspected irregularities in the 2008 allotment of 2G spectrum and licences that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has estimated caused a loss of 1.76 trillion to the national exchequer.

There have been two petitions filed on the issue. One has been filed by former Tata Sons Ltd chairman Ratan Tata claiming some of these conversations, being private in nature, should not be allowed to be made public. The other petition, filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), has sought these transcripts to be made public in the larger public interest.

Prashant Bhushan, counsel for CPIL, said: “The Supreme Court has said that the contents (of the tape) are ‘shocking’. They show an unholy nexus between corporate houses, trade lobbies and senior public servants. Fourteen cases will be investigated. While six cases arise from the first report prepared by the CBI, eight are from the second report."

Bhushan also said one has been referred to the Chief Justice of India; this relates to conversations indicating a bribe of 9 crore paid in return for a favourable decision by a judge.

According to PTI, the SC said, “Radia’s conversations reveal deep-rooted malice by private enterprises in connivance with government officials for extraneous purposes."

“The telephonic conversations suggest corrupt means being adopted by private parties to extract gains," the court hearing the petition on the 2G spectrum case added.

The 2G scam refers to the alleged collusion of government officials, including ministers, and company executives to give undue advantages in the allocation of telecom spectrum to companies. The CAG, in its November 2010 report, said it had caused a loss of around 1.76 trillion to the treasury.

The SC had earlier directed that the tapes containing over 5,000 hours of conversations of Radia with businessmen and politicians be reviewed by the CBI for elements of criminality. Post the directive, in a confidential report prepared by a special five-member committee, the federal investigative agency detailed the issues that required further investigation. The court has granted two months starting 17 October for the complete scrutiny of these conversations.

Hindalco has denied the charges against it and its chairman. On Wednesday, the company said it had no knowledge of the CBI’s seizure of 25 crore of unaccounted money from its offices. On Thursday, the company said in a statement that it was “taken aback" by the discovery of cash. The company has “taken a very serious view of the matter and has instituted an internal team of senior managers to make a thorough investigation and report its findings at the earliest," Hindalco said.

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