The highly anticipated 2G “scam” verdict has turned out to be a complete shocker for many, to the extent that now there seems to be a huge question mark on whether or not there was any scam at all, and whether the “notional loss” to the tune of Rs 1.7 lakh crore in case of the spectrum allocations in 2008 was way out of line. A special CBI court on Thursday, December 21, acquitted all accused in the case, including the UPA-era telecom minister and DMK leader A Raja as well as DMK MP Kanimozhi.
The other accused, including A Raja’s ex-private secretary RK Chandolia, Reliance ADAG Group’s managing director Gautam Doshi, Swan Telecom’s Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd’s Sanjay Chandra, Essar Group’s Anshuman and Ravi Rui, among others – too have been acquitted. The Special CBI court judge OP Saini memorably said: “I have no hesitation in holding that record is not insufficient and the prosecution has miserably failed in proving charges. All accused are acquitted.”
#2GScamVerdict: Judge OP Saini stated that the prosecution miserably failed to prove its case— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) December 21, 2017
Special judge OP Saini makes it amply clear in his 1552-page verdict that #CBI had no clue what it was investigating. Read:"The chargesheet of the instant case is based mainly on misreading, selective reading,non-reading and out of the context reading of official records."— Utkarsh Anand (@utkarsh_aanand) December 21, 2017
Not only does the judgment say that the CBI chargesheet was based “mainly on misreading, selective reading, non-reading and out-of-context reading of the official record”, it also says that the oral testimonies have not stood the test of the witness box. The judgment also says that “facts recorded in the charge sheet are factually incorrect”, thereby calling into question the very integrity of the CBI, which filed the chargesheet against the accused, now acquitted.
Why all accused are acquitted in #2GScamVerdict. pic.twitter.com/kPi6ZhpIqB— Utkarsh Anand (@utkarsh_aanand) December 21, 2017
The bone of contention in the 2G spectrum case was that the spectrum – a natural resource – was sold at “throwaway prices” of 2001 rates and not at 2008 market rates. When the CAG Vinod Rai (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) finally gave his figures of the “presumptive loss” in revenues to the government and the telecom sector because of – what he thought was faulty allocations to a handful of telecom companies – he put the number at a staggering Rs 1.7 lakh crore. The figure was carried on the frontpage of newspapers, particularly The New Indian Express, and the set the tone for the narrative of “corruption”.
Look forward to the headline tomorrow @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/UWzhWmcbKy— Divya Spandana/Ramya (@divyaspandana) December 21, 2017
While the Supreme Court in 2012 cancelled the licences of the companies and later fresh auctions were held, while doubts were raised on the accuracy of the “presumptive loss”, particularly by the Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal who insisted that the figure was awry, the narrative never changed and led to the rout of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA regime, helping Narendra Modi-led NDA to sweep the elections on the anti-corruption plank. In the light of the trial court verdict, then how are we to read the drastic U-turn that the 2G spectrum “scam” case has taken?
While the UPA era ministers, particularly former PM Manmohan Singh has called this a vindication of his leadership, since the taint had reached him and sullied the mantle of his prime ministership, other Congress leaders and many observers are calling today’s verdict as an important step towards dispelling a number of myths, particularly the idea of a notional loss.
#WATCH: Former PM Manmohan Singh says, 'the court judgement has to be respected. I'm glad that the court has pronounced that the massive propaganda against UPA was without any foundation.' #2GScamVerdict pic.twitter.com/9WAhwjekph— ANI (@ANI) December 21, 2017
The CAG report allowed BJP to mislead the nation & play the role of a highly irresponsible opposition. This won them an election, but hurt India’s competitiveness & straddled banks with ₹4 lakh crore of debt resulting from license cancellations & auctions— Milind Deora (@milinddeora) December 21, 2017
I continue to believe that a government’s priority needn’t be revenue maximisation. Don’t forget, spectrum & coal auctions have put a tremendous strain on PSU banks. Teledensity & affordable power for all are far more prudent policy priorities— Milind Deora (@milinddeora) December 21, 2017
After the 2G judgement by the Special Court 0 gain for BJPMy position vindicated— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) December 21, 2017
The core argument in #2GAcquitted was actually teledensity goals vs revenue maximisation. Today if India has over 100 crore mobile users and such cheap tariffs it was thanks to UPA policy. #BJP mischievously used leak document to destroy a popular government.— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) December 21, 2017
In fact, a number of senior business journalists have emphasized how the 2G spectrum case sent the telecom sector, until then booming, into a tailspin from which it hasn’t recovered. Some of the astute watchers of the industry have said that the digital India push and the high mobile phone penetration in India has been a gift from the UPA era policies, which were called into question in the wake of the CAG Vinod Rai report.
Somebody pls set up another super-empowered, Court-monitored committee under Venerable Vinod Rai to find his 1.76 lakh cr. India has wasted a decade searching for it, devastated telecom businesses— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) December 21, 2017
Just for the record, #2Gscam has set the ball rolling for expensive spectrum auctions! Haven’t we made our telecom services costly & industry suffer due to a ‘non’ scam?— anshuman tiwari (@anshuman1tiwari) December 21, 2017
The cancellation of the licences was an unfortunate judgment, with appalling consequences for the investment climate and India's reputation https://t.co/zuZwPzS7qo— Mihir Sharma (@mihirssharma) December 21, 2017
Therefore, in the light of the strong and scathing 2G verdict by the trial court, even if it’s challenged in higher courts, how are we to read the immense role of the CAG Vinod Rai in setting the ball rolling? Of course, until the Supreme Court takes a call, the jury, in a way, is still out, but would the SC then go against its own 2012 reading of the spectrum allocations? And, what happens to the office of CAG after the verdict? Shouldn’t we ask if putting blind faith in all-powerful institutions and ombudsmen without democratic checks and balances is at all a good idea?
After seeing 2G verdict Iam totally convinced that crony capitalism is a deeply entrenched arrangement which controls all state apparatus. Modi no exception.— M K Venu (@mkvenu1) December 21, 2017
There’s however another take on the 2G verdict, which is at a tangent from the idea that there was no scam at all, even though even though the figure of Rs 1.7 lakh crore is deemed equally outrageous. Are corporations with deep pockets really out of touch? Are the institutions, the probing bodies, the mechanisms of ensuring justice, all “caged parrots”? If the CBI’s chargesheet itself is faulty, how can the court pronounce the accused “guilty”? In that case, was the 2G spectrum “scam” a case of “presumed corruption”?
A number of institutions, including the media, must introspect and deeply so, on the turn of events. Given the judgment on 2G verdict notes how “misreading, selective reading, non-reading and out-of-context reading of the official record” became the fulcrum of the chargesheet and the built the case up possibly out of thin air, we mustn’t forget that the tendency to misread, ill-read, indulge in intentional selectivity and whataboutery are now the new normal.
A course correction is overdue.