22 Dec 2017 19:15 IST

Spectrum shock

It is clear from the judgement that the prosecution botched up the case

The Special CBI Court’s verdict in the 2G spectrum case gives every arm of our state cause to reflect. It is not just that former Telecom Minister A Raja and all the other accused in the case have been acquitted, but the manner of acquittal and the judge’s stinging criticism which accompanied his ruling, that are a cause for concern. The verdict must be seen first and foremost as a failure of our bureaucratic process, a severe indictment of the country’s premier investigating agencies and a failure of the Government’s prosecutors to once again build a winning case in court. CBI Special Court judge, OP Saini, while pronouncing the not guilty verdict and acquitting Raja, DMK leader M Kanimozhi and 17 others, poured scorn on almost every arm of government that played a role in the 2G case. While the Congress party has been quick to claim vindication of its stand that there had been no irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum, the judge’s observation render that ‘victory’ at best a pyrrhic one. At one point, while criticising the actions of the Law Ministry, the judge observed: “…the conduct of the Law Secretary and the then Law Minister was against all established canons, discipline and protocol of Government working.” Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Office also didn’t escape the judge’s fire about its manner of dealing with Raja’s letter explaining the changed criteria for licence allotment. “Whatever Shri A. Raja intended to do relating to telecom licences was conveyed by him to the then Hon’ble Prime Minister in his letter, but the PMO presented only a partial view to the then Hon’ble Prime Minister on 07.01.2008.” Even the prosecution was sharply criticised for its “lackadaisical” approach.

The Centre has declared that it will appeal the verdict, but politically, it is now on the back foot. It’s also crucial to remember that in February 2012, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 licences of eight telecom companies on the basis that the process of allocation was flawed. The telecom sector has seen massive upheavals since then, with several firms exiting the business, thousands of jobs lost and tens of thousands of crore rupees worth of assets stuck. Who is to be held responsible for this? The big question of whether there was indeed a revenue loss for the government needs to decided and this can be clarified only if the latter chooses to appeal in a higher court, which it should.

With some of the firms which lost their licences now planning to appeal that order, the aftershocks of the verdict will continue to reverberate for some time to come. But the more pressing task in front of the Government, particularly in view of its crusading anti-corruption stance, is to fix the flaws that have been exposed in the bureaucratic policy and decision-making process, and to comprehensively overhaul its investigative agencies, particularly the CBI, in order to avoid facing similar embarrassment in the future.