SC grills govt, Raja questions CAG claims

SC grills govt, Raja questions CAG claims

New Delhi: Former telecom minister A. Raja dismissed the claims of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that his actions had caused a loss of Rs1.76 trillion to the exchequer.

The minister’s submission to the Supreme Court came on the day the apex court raised serious questions on the transparency of the allotment of second-generation (2G) mobile spectrum and was unconvinced by the government’s defence, saying the process was “not reasonable" and “not in accordance with the rule of law."

Separately, the court ordered that the tapes containing the phone taps on the conversations corporate lobbyist Niira Radia had with politicians, journalists and businessmen be deposited with its registry, after lawyer Prashant Bhushan raised apprehensions over their safety in the backdrop of Ratan Tata’s privacy petition that was filed in the apex court on Monday.

The bench, comprising justices G.S. Singhvi and Ashok Kumar Ganguly, questioned the government’s defence of its actions on 10 January 2008, the day on which 16 companies deposited bank drafts of 1,651 crore each within 45 minutes at DoT for the issue of telecom licences.

Referring to the entire process, the bench asked, “How do you call it transparent? You are giving 45 minutes time to do so."

Solicitor general Gopal Subramanium responded “at least there was a facet of transparency" since DoT had issued two press releases on that day. The bench observed this was only a “microscopic facet" of transparency to which Subramanium replied, “I’m not able to give an answer."

The bench asked, “Do you consider this a reasonable way of functioning of a department of government? This is not reasonable."

Subramanium said that in hindsight this did perhaps seem unreasonable, but said he couldn’t immediately respond to the questions.

He attempted play down the charges in the CAG report saying that it was being made out as if there was a complete collapse of the whole system within government. “While the CAG has a point of view, the government also has a point of view. It doesn’t mean that I’m justifying culpability. The report is inchoate. It needs to be debated" in Parliament, he argued.

He also defended the allocation of spectrum at 2001 prices, saying that a level playing field principle was being followed since earlier entrants to the market were charged the same amount.

Meanwhile, making out Raja’s case, the minister’s lawyer, T. R. Andhyarujina, said in the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the method used to determine the loss was “totally speculative" and that his client could not be considered personally responsible for the controversial allotment of 2G spectrum.

Raja’s lawyer said he was in favour of the apex court monitoring the CBI’s investigation of the case. “There is nothing which indicts me personally. It (CAG report) holds the whole department responsible," the lawyer said on the former minister’s behalf.

According to him, Raja resigned from the Union cabinet “because there has to be constitutional responsibility".

Lashing out at the media for the “trial and conviction" of his client, the lawyer said, “Some people go to the extent of saying that I have looted. Silence has been taken as almost an admission of me being responsible for this enormous amount of scam."

He contended that CAG “attempts presumptive valuation and gives a mind-boggling figure of Rs1,76,000 crore by a method which is totally speculative" and submitted that the final determination should be made by the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament.