The Centre finally seems to be distancing itself from tainted former telecom minister A. Raja, leaving him to fend for himself in the 2G spectrum allocation scam case before the Supreme Court.
Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium on Wednesday strongly defended the policy of the government with regard to allocation of licences for 2G spectrum but did not offer any explanation for some of the key decisions reportedly taken by Raja in his personal capacity as a Union minister.
In fact, even when the court asked pointed questions relating the process itself, Subramanium had no option but to admit that the process fell short of the rule of law.
|Govt counsel agrees with court view|
- Justices G. S. Singhvi and A. K. Ganguly question the decision by DoT to issue a press release at 2.45 pm on January 10, 2008, asking applicants to come and fulfil certain conditions by 3.30 pm the same afternoon Justice Ganguly: Is the process consistent with the rule of law?" Gopal Subramanium: " It falls short…"
- Justice Ganguly: "… miserably short." SC expresses surprise as to how the companies complied with the conditions set out in the press release within 45 minutes.
- SC bench: " Unless someone had informed them about the press release in advance, how could they comply?" Subramanium: " I am not able to give an answer." SC bench: " Would you not call it arbitrary? Was it reasonable to comply in 45 minutes?" Subramanium: " I agree a more transparent procedure could have been adopted."
The court, at one point, questioned the decision by DoT to issue a press release at 2.45 pm on January 10, 2008 asking applicants to come and fulfil certain conditions by 3.30 pm the same afternoon. "Is the process consistent with the rule of law," Justice Ganguly asked.
"It falls short…," Subramanium admitted.
To which Justice Ganguly responded: "… miserably short." Subramanium said the redeeming aspect is that all 16 companies which had applied turned up and got it. " Nothing can redeem this," Justice Ganguly said.
Earlier, the court expressed surprise about how the companies complied with the conditions set out in the press release within 45 minutes. The court said it did not want to impute motives but someone was to be favoured.
"Unless someone had informed them about the press release in advance, how could they comply," the bench asked. "I am not able to give an answer," Subramanium said.
But the court pressed on. "Would you not call it arbitrary? Was it reasonable to comply in 45 minutes?" "I agree a more transparent procedure could have been adopted," Subramanium said, virtually leaving it to Raja to give an explanation.
While Subramanium defended the government's policy of not auctioning licences for the 2G spectrum, he seemed non- committal when it came to defending the process adopted by the then telecom ministry headed by Raja and some decisions taken by the minister himself during the allotment process.
Subramanium, who represented the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), had given an indication that the government was distancing itself from Raja on Tuesday itself. He had stated at the outset that after the new minister had taken over, he was taking action.
The ministry had issued show- cause notices to companies found ineligible.
Senior counsel T. R. Andhyarujina, who argued for Raja after the solicitor general concluded his arguments, said that his client had been put to trial and convicted by the media.
He said nothing had been said about two of Raja's predecessors - Dayanidhi Maran and Arun Shourie. Raja became a minister in 2007 and 52 2G licenses were given by his predecessors between 2003 and 2007 till he took over.
He said the draft CAG report and later, the CAG report, was leaked even before it was placed before Parliament.
The report was to be placed before Parliament on November 16 but his client had to resign on November 14 not only taking constitutional responsibility and also because of political compulsions.
On the court indicating that the CAG report made a prima facie case against Raja, Andhyarujina refused to admit the personal role of his client and attempted to rope in the DoT. "It is certainly a strong indictment of the whole department… to that extent I take responsibility," Andhyarujina, who will continue with his arguments on Thursday, said.
Meanwhile, Subramanium seemed to agree with the court that Raja should have given more importance to the advice by the Prime Minister and should have adopted a more transparent process for allotment of licences.
While the solicitor general was defending the government's decision to allot spectrum in 2007 at prices prevalent in 2001, the court pointed out that the telecom ministry had ignored advice by several departments. "Here the policy was such that first it did not have the approval of the law ministry, then the matter reached the PMO. The Prime Minister dealt with the matter urgently but his letter was not treated with the respect it deserved. Again, the finance secretary also opposed (he wanted an auction)… these are the hurdles," a bench comprising Justice G. S. Singhvi and Justice A. K. Ganguly observed.
The court was referring to a letter written by the Prime Minister to Raja in November 2007 suggesting an auction be conducted in the spectrum allocation process but the minister wrote back the very same day stating that it would be unfair, discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious to auction spectrum.
The bench observed that the overruling and bypassing of the PM was not correct and this is what the Comptroller and Auditor General had also said.
With the bench seeking to know his view, Subramanium stated that in his opinion, more importance should have been given to the PM's letter.
Courtesy: Mail Today