2G verdict: Hard-hitting questions no one is asking

The questions that arise from India's most high-profile politico-economic corruption are bigger than merely the politics of the scam.

 |  4-minute read |   22-12-2017
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Long before the 2G scam hit the headlines, Indian investigative agencies had mastered the art of "managing" acquittals for high-profile offenders. Scams and their "happy endings" are also not rare in India.

What is different, however, with the 2G scam is that unlike Bofors and CWG, this is the only scam in recent history which has triggered unprecedented ripples in Indian policy environment and changed India's telecom market by decisively altering the metrics of business.

Another exception is the fact that the "caged parrots" (CBI and ED) investigating the 2G scam had been under the direct command of and in synergy with government ministries. Therefore, the government's frequent claims of zero tolerance against corruption is left with no meaning.

The 2G scam is probably the first huge political scandal in the recent history where court didn’t mince words in saying that the prosecution didn't know what it wanted to prove. The quality of prosecution totally deteriorated and it became "directionless and diffident".

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Can you imagine this was the case which not only unleashed a political storm in the country, but also altered the direction of India's telecom revolution?

This was also the first-of-its-kind case where the court said, "Everybody was going by public perception created by rumours, gossip and speculation. There is no evidence on the record produced before the court indicating any criminality in the acts allegedly committed by the accused persons."

To be sure, the Supreme Court had cancelled as many as 122 telecom licences on the basis of those charges, against which the "caged parrots" could not collect an iota of evidence in the past five years.

Since the 2G scam has shocked the Indian telecom scene and has wasted crucial five years of the industry, the questions that arise from India's most high-profile politico-economic corruption are bigger than merely the politics of 2G scam.  

If 2G weren't a scam...

1) Who is responsible for the losses suffered by investors and bidders who lost their licences in 2012? Leaders and bureaucrats have got acquittals, but who will compensate the industry for its investment losses and to employees for their job losses? The fact of the matter is following the 2G shocker, the telecom industry is still trying hard to gain back its momentum.

2) The 2G scam has badly hit India's credibility as an investment destination. No major global telecom player has entered India since then. Those who did, lost their licences in 2012, and have either wound up or sold off their businesses to the big domestic incumbents.  

3) Who benefited from the whole fiasco? Before 2008, India's telecom market was limited to a few operators. The "tainted" 2G spectrum allocation has introduced competition among the telecom services and led to lower cost of services eventually. After 2012, Indian telecom market returned to the mercy of limited competition among three-four telecom operators as they owned majority of crucial spectrum.

4) The 2G scandal has set the ball rolling for the government to maximise revenues through the auction of spectrum. No doubt the auction process is a lot more transparent, but it has also made spectrum, the raw material, costlier for the industry. Not only did it jack up the cost of services, but also left the companies with little funds for network augmentation. Surprisingly, despite increased supply of spectrum, the quality of telecom services has turned from bad to worse in recent years. Thanks to expensive spectrum, the debt of the telecom industry has also reached a "highly unsustainable level".   

The government has recently constituted an inter-ministerial panel to work out a possible bailout of debt-laden telecom companies. Indian telcos owe Rs 4.85 lakh crore to the banking industry. They also have to pay the government close to Rs 3 lakh crore for spectrum.

Telecom is India's peculiar story of shining successes and filthy scandals. If 2G was not a scam, then for what the investigative agencies, politicians and judiciary have destroyed five precious years of India's growth story? The question that must be asked now is - who benefited because of the scam, and not by the scam?

Also read: 2G scam verdict: Why history is looking better for Manmohan Singh already

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Anshuman Tiwari Anshuman Tiwari @anshuman1tiwari

Editor, economic analyst, columnist, author

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