n14 premises, eight of them in New Delhi, raided nSeveral incriminating documents recovered
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 8
The CBI had so far refrained from linking Raja with the scam and its FIR registered on October 21, 2009, did not mention name of any accused, but the Supreme Court’s critical comments on its timid investigation and the role of Raja, which forced the government to sack him, might have prompted the agency into widening its investigation.
Many said the raids today were an “eyewash” as they were very much expected but a CBI spokesperson said their raids had yielded many incriminating documents, strengthening suspicions that Raja and his close aides had much to answer for the loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer, as per a Comptroller and Auditor General report.
The spokesperson said they had raided 14 premises, eight of them in New Delhi, and these included those of RK Chandolia, Raja’s then PS, Siddhartha Behuria, the then secretary to the department of telecommunication, K Sridhar, the then member of Telecom Commission, AK Srivastava, the then deputy director general, Access Service Wing, and Sadiqui Batcha, MD, Greenhouse Exports, Chennai.
Unconfirmed reports said the houses of some relativesof these high-profile accused, including that of Raja, were also raided.
The CBI spokesperson said the raids were still on and they could evaluate the complete evidence picked up during searched only after some time.
A senior official told The Tribune that these arrests might be a prelude to arrest of some of them. “The Supreme Court hearing in the matter has caused much embarrassment to the CBI as well as the government. The probe has taken a crucial turn as it will reach its logical conclusion in coming weeks,” he said.
The CBI had registered a case against unknown officials of Department of Telecommunication and unknown private persons, companies and others under Prevention of Corruption Act.
“It has been alleged that there had been serious irregularities in the award of Unified Access Services Licences to private companies. As per information received, there was criminal conspiracy between certain officials of Department of Telecommunication (DoT) and private persons, companies and others in order to award licences to these companies by putting a cap on the number of applicants against recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and by awarding licences to private companies on first come first serve basis on the rates of 2001 without any competitive bidding,” the spokesperson said.
SC questions criteria
SC Bench questions the logic of allotting spectrum in 2008 at 2001 prices despite the fact that the demand was far greater than its availability.
l Asks why can’t government sell petrol at 2001 rate? l
Judge explains that spectrum was sold “for a song” to cash-rich companies l
Suggests special courts for handling money laundering
l Asks why can’t government sell petrol at 2001 rate?
l Judge explains that spectrum was sold “for a song” to cash-rich companies
l Suggests special courts for handling money laundering
Probe telecom licences since 2001: SC
New Delhi, December 8
During day-long arguments, a Bench comprising Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly questioned the logic of allotting spectrum in 2008, when A Raja was Telecom Minister, at 2001 prices despite the fact that the demand was far greater than its availability.
“Why don’t you give petrol at 2001 rate? We don’t mind. This is an absurd policy, to say the least,” Justice Ganguly remarked, referring to the first-come, first-served policy for the allocation of spectrum at 2001 prices.
The Judge further explained that spectrum was sold “for a song” to cash-rich companies which were doing huge business and looking for expanding and diversifying their activities. Spectrum was definitely notmeant for “philanthropic or religious” purposes. Rather, it was for commercial activities aimed at making profits.
Justice Singhvi said the scam appeared to have a “much wider compass” than the presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). “What happened since 2001 needs to be looked into.” Since 2001, the telecom portfolio has been held by various ministers - the late Pramod Mahajan till 2003 followed by Arun Shourie (both of BJP) and Dayanidhi Maran and Raja (both DMK, now part of the ruling UPA government).
The Bench, however, did not record any of its remarks in the cryptic order which merely said the arguments had concluded and “order reserved.”
Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the PIL petitioners who have sought a court-monitored probe into the 2G scam, said Unitech and a few other companies, after getting the telecom license for Rs 1,600 crore, had raised loans far in excess of this amount by pledging the license to SBI and other banks. Some of the DoT officials were involved in the tripartite deals, he said.
At this, the Bench asked the CBI to include this angle also in its probe, which should be “holistic.” Senior counsel KK Venugopal, appearing for CBI, said the agency would refer it to the Banking Securities and Fraud Cell within the agency.
While considering the money trail of the 16 companies which were allotted 122 licenses in 2008, the Bench clarified: “Unless the government is prepared to create exclusive courts for the trial of such offences ends of justice could not be met” as the present trial courts, special and normal, were already burdened with a heavy load of work.
Summing up the aspects that would have to be gone into by the CBI, the court listed four points: 1) irregularities in the grant of licenses 2) allotment of spectrum to ineligible companies and some companies’ failure to meet the service roll-out obligations 3) sale of equity by companies immediately after getting license for booking huge profits at the cost of the public exchequer 4) banks giving loans accepting the licenses as guarantees even before the allotment of spectrum.