Thursday, December 16, 2010

Supreme Court takes charge of 2G probe

Taking a serious view of irregularities and lapses in the National Telecom Policy over the past decade, the Supreme Court on Thursday took charge of the 2G spectrum scam probe being conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation and widened its scope.

It asked the CBI to register an FIR and investigate the grant of licences from 2001 to 2006-07, with particular emphasis on the loss caused to the public exchequer and corresponding gain made by the licensees and service providers.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly passed this order on a special leave petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation against a Delhi High Court judgment which declined to grant the necessary relief sought.

The Bench directed the CBI to also probe the issue of allowing use of dual/alternate technology by some service providers even before the October 2007 decision was made public.

The Bench said the High Court committed a serious error in dismissing the petition at the threshold, ignoring the issues raised by the appellants. “We are, prima facie, satisfied that the allegations contained in the writ petition and the affidavits filed before this court, which are supported not only by the documents produced by them, but also the report of the Central Vigilance Commission ... and the findings recorded by the CAG ... need a thorough and impartial investigation.”

Justice Singhvi, who wrote the order, said, “At this stage, we do not consider it necessary to appoint a Special Team to investigate what the appellants have described as the 2G Spectrum Scam because the government ... has ... agreed for a court-monitored investigation. The reports produced before the court show that the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have started investigation in the right direction.”

The Bench took note of the statements made on behalf of the Centre, the CBI and the ED and, with a view to ensuring that comprehensive and coordinated investigations were conducted without any hindrance, issued a series of directions.

It ordered the CBI to conduct a thorough investigation into various issues highlighted in the report of the CVC as forwarded to the CBI on October 12, 2009, as well as the CAG report, “which prima facie found serious irregularities in the grant of licences to 122 applicants, the majority of whom are said to be ineligible,” as well as “the blatant violation of the terms and conditions of licences and huge loss to the public exchequer running into several thousand crores.”

Specifically, the CBI has been directed to probe how licences were granted to a large number of ineligible applicants and to establish who was responsible for this. It has also been asked to investigate “why the TRAI [Telecom Regulatory Authority of India] and the DoT did not take action against those licensees who sold their stakes/equities for many thousand crores and also against those who failed to fulfil roll-out obligations and comply with other conditions of licence.”

Grant of loans
In addition, the Bench wants the CBI to investigate the allegation of grant of huge loans by public sector banks to some companies which obtained licences in 2008 and to find out whether DoT officers were signatories to the loan agreement executed by the private companies and if so, why and with whose permission they did so.

The court asked the Income Tax authorities to analyse the transcripts made from phone taps it conducted and hand these over to the CBI “to facilitate further investigation into the FIR already registered or which may be registered hereinafter.”

Setting February 11, 2011 as the next date of hearing, the Bench said the CBI and the ED should hand over the progress report of their investigation in sealed envelopes by then.

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