2G scam case: CBI court likely to deliver verdict today
New Delhi: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court is likely to deliver its verdict on Thursday on alleged irregularities in the 2008 allocation of 2G telecom spectrum and licences—a scandal that contributed to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s electoral downfall in 2014.
Special judge O.P. Saini reserved the verdict on 26 April after hearings ended in related cases involving political figures, bureaucrats and telecom executives. Saini has presided over the trial for six years.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has estimated a presumptive loss of Rs1.76 trillion because of flawed allocation of spectrum when A. Raja was telecom minister in the UPA government.
The so-called 2G scam, together with a scandal over the allocation of coal blocks that surfaced later, cast its shadow over much of the UPA’s second term in office, exposing it to charges of corruption that became a key electoral issue in the 2014 general election which the coalition lost.
Raja, fellow Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) politician Kanimozhi and 15 others are accused in the 2G case, in which they have been tried on charges ranging from cheating and criminal conspiracy to abuse of public office.
Former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, Raja’s erstwhile private secretary R.K. Chandolia, Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd managing director D. Sanjay Chandra, and three top executives of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group—Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair—are others tried in the case.
Swan Telecom, Reliance Telecom Ltd and Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu) Ltd were also charged under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.
Special judge Saini is set to deliver his verdict at a time when the winter session of Parliament is under way. The ruling could potentially hand fresh ammunition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), fresh from a victorious faceoff with the Congress in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections.
An adverse verdict can reverse the political momentum gained by the Congress in Gujarat under newly anointed party president Rahul Gandhi and hurt its attempts to forge an anti-NDA opposition front. It could also bring corruption back to the centrestage of political discourse and undermine its prospects in electoral contests due next year in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan ahead of 2019 general elections.
In 2008, 2G licenses were awarded on a first-come-first-served basis to new entrants and so-called CDMA (code division multiple access, a telecom technology standard) operators migrating to GSM (global system for mobile) technology at a price discovered in an auction held seven years earlier.
On 2 February 2012, the apex court cancelled 122 telecom licenses and spectrum allocated to nine companies, holding that the process of allocation had been flawed. The court said spectrum or any other natural resource must be auctioned.
The CAG found that licenses had been issued to applicants who suppressed facts, disclosed incomplete information, submitted fictitious documents and used fraudulent means.
The apex court verdict set the stage for an investigation and trial to prosecute those involved. The special court began trial in November 2011 in five cases—two filed by the CBI and a third by the Enforcement Directorate.