SC: No more licence to loot & scoot
By Aditya Pradhan
- Court forces national interest back on the agenda
- Rules national resources held in trust, can't give away for individual gains. Scraps 2G licences.
- Court decision to profit country hugely
The stinging Supreme Court order on the 2G scam with the subsequent cancellation of the 122 2G licences have been the most direct indictment of the Dr Manmohan Singh and his government’s shenanigans in corruption cover-up. Never in the history of the country has the highest court held the government wholly responsible for the massive loot of public money.
On the one hand, A Raja, then Union Telecom Minister, “wanted to favour some companies at the cost of the public exchequer” and the acquiescence of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and then Finance Minister and present Union Home Minister P Chidambaram make them almost culpable in the act of omission and commission in the multi-lakh-crore scandal.
At the time of going to press, P Chidambaram’s fate was left to the trial court to decide, but the order was bereft of any direction which the trial court should take. The fairness of the Supreme Court order is clear right through the statement but the most striking parts are related to way in which the government had deliberately turned a nelson’s eye on the goings on in the telecom ministry.
Even though the Union cabinet had approved recommendations made by the Group of Ministers, the Department of Telecommunications had to discuss the issue of spectrum pricing with the Finance Ministry. But what happened thereafter is slimy and incredulous. A Raja knew that the finance secretary had objected to the allocation of 2G spectrum at rates fixed in 2001, but he did not consult P Chidambaram, then Union Finance Minister, or other officials. As a quiet repartee neither the Prime Minister nor the Union Finance Minister moved a finger. Though the media was agog with rumours of large-scale corruption there was stunning silence from Dr Manmohan Singh as well as Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. The Supreme Court order almost makes them accessory to the massive loot of the public exchequer.
Repeatedly, the courts have held that the Prime Minister remained completely aloof from brewing scandals be it the Commonwealth Games or the 2G. Even as this report was filed there was another scandal brewing in the Aviation Ministry. Praful Patel, heavy industries minister and former Civil Aviation Minister, has been named in a Canadian newspaper report as an intended beneficiary of a bribe supposed to have been given by an Indo-Canadian businessman in an attempt to obtain an aborted contract for supplies to Air India. And as is wont with this government, other than denials and claims that the charges are baseless, nothing else is forthcoming.
The Supreme Court order calls Kapil Sibal’s bluff that the 2G spectrum sale scandal has been a zero loss game for the government as the loss is only notional. Though Kapil Sibal tried hard to obfuscate the issue of accountability and responsibility for the loss of lakhs of crores of rupees for the government by favouring private companies in the first-come-first-served policy by saying that the policy was made during the NDA rule in early 2000, the policy decisions of the NDA rule have not been in question at all. The policy of first-come-first-served was put into practice to increase tele-density, but by the time A. Raja put that into practice the tele-density had increased by over six times. Also, all the 122 licences cancelled by the Supreme Court have been given by the present UPA government and by the NDA government.
The obvious reading of the fast-paced developments in the courts, which is surprisingly going the same way as in neighbouring Pakistan, where the Prime Minister has been accused of shielding Swiss bank account–holders, the fate of various other highly placed players in the government would be sealed very soon. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi put it succinctly: “the way the government has been trying to protect the corrupt, it is clear that the entire-Manmohan Singh government is making all these efforts not just to save P Chidambaram but all those people behind him and whose names have not yet cropped up in public domain”.
The Supreme Court order is also quite scathing in its attack of the corporate houses which were involved in the scandal. The first-come-first-served policy had the approval of the telecom authority also, but A Raja with abundant connivance of the prime minister and other relevant Union ministers in finance and law, managed to give licences for a song to ineligible companies. Companies like Unitech which are real estate developers have no experience or expertise in telecom but were beneficiaries of the policy.
Subramanian Swamy, the petitioner in this case who wanted P. Chidambaram to be investigated for his role in the multi-lakh-crore scandal, has even alleged that Sonia Gandhi has been the beneficiary in cornering 60 per cent of the sleaze money.
The alleged manipulation, the Supreme Court order states, made some of the corporates introduce some ingenuity in their game plan. Unitech and Swan diluted their equity by bringing in foreign players at huge profits. “The Supreme Court ruling is a very serious attack on the firm's investments. Quitting the Indian market now is an option being considered,” a statement by Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor said.
But the fact remains that the Supreme Court ruling actually makes the country a better place to do business with, especially for companies which want to do clean business. Several American companies have complained that they are unable to penetrate the Indian market because of their own law which prohibits corrupt ways and means employed in foreign soil. Unlike that many European companies have found it easy to make inroads into India by adopting corrupt measures to garner market share, especially given the venality of Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. The Supreme Court order actually has made the country proud and reiterated the fact that India is not a banana republic where everything is up for sale.
The fact is that Subramanian Swamy is the latest hero to have taken the government head on it his fight against corruption at high places. The silence of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh actually lends credence to the rumours that the beneficiaries of the massive scandal have been many in the upper echelons of Congress party. Only last month Anna Hazare had spearheaded the anti-corruption movement. An arrogant, unrepentant and unrelenting government makes the anti-corruption movement gather steam like never before. Subramanian Swamy in a television interview said that he would go for the government’s jugular very soon. And he has enough evidence to make charges against the government and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. The worm is yet to turn.