Shock 2G verdict yet again proves the weakness of the justice system in India

The special court verdict in the long-standing 2G case again highlights a weak investigation, vitiated prosecution efforts and delayed justice. The judgment which comes almost eight years after the scam first broke refocuses attention on the shortcomings in the system.

A special court early Thursday acquitted all the 17 accused individuals and three companies. This included the former telecom minister, A Raja and Member of Parliament, Kanimozhi – both from the Tamil Nadu-based political party, the DMK. The two were accused of abusing public office and of bribery.

The issue at the heart of the case was the grant of 122 telecom licenses on first-come-first-serve basis in 2008 (when Raja was telecom minister), bundled with spectrum, at prices determined in 2001, allegedly causing a loss of Rs 30,984 crore to the public exchequer, according the CBI.

The Comptroller & Auditor General had however put the loss higher, according to one of four estimates, at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The Supreme Court, in 2012, declared the first-come-first-serve process of allocating airwaves faulty and cancelled the 122 licenses belonging to nine telcom companies.

One of the initial voices against what later came to be called as the 2G scam, noted Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan expressed his disappointment with the verdict. It was the NGO run by Bhushan, Centre for Public Interest litigation (CPIL) that had moved the Delhi High Court seeking Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into irregularities in spectrum allocation in 2010.

“There was considerable evidence to show that they (the accused) got benami licenses. There was also evidence to suggest fudging on account of first-come-first-serve basis… It is a bad judgment, that is my feeling,” Prashant Bhushan told ETCFO soon after the verdict.

“There was a lot of evidence…An atmosphere has been created where all influential accused are getting acquitted,” he said adding that any further stance from his side or from his organisation will be dictated by how the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) responds.

The CBI, India’s premier investigative agency said it would study the special court verdict before deciding the future course of action.

Meanwhile, the special CBI judge, O P Saini is believed to have said there was a lack of evidence to prove any of the charges against the accused while delivering the single line judgment.

“I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that (the) prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any accused,” Saini told the packed courtroom, according to news reports.

While various functionaries of the previous United Progressive Alliance government and its allies were jubilant with this acquittal, the current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley tried to limit the political damage.

Jaitley pointed to the huge gaps in the manner in which the 2G spectrum allocation policy was followed by the UPA. “There was a huge element of arbitrariness and the ‘first come, first serve’ policy was altered to ‘first come, first pay’,” Jaitley told television reporters.

Former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh beleives that the judgment speaks for itself. “I do not want to boast (about) anything. The court’s judgement has to be respected. I am glad that the court has pronounced unambiguously. All the massive propaganda which was being done against the UPA was without any foundation.”

From the limited perspective of businesses and investors, the judgment which is likely to be challenged brings no succor as it comes after nearly eight years.

“Policies cannot be a function of government in power. Continuity of policy and economic meritocracy are important,” said Shriram Subramanian, Founder and Managing Director, InGovern Research Services, a proxy advisory firm.

“Whenever there are these corporate scams and crony capitalism type of issues, justice should be swift,” added Subramanian.

Link: Economic Times- December 21, 2017