By Ashish Joshi
Orchestrated by the politicians and bureaucrats, it is one of the biggest ever scams in the Indian history. The CAG audit report of the scam estimated a net loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to the exchequer. It shook the entire nation and irreversibly tarnished India’s image globally. TIME Magazine placed this scandal on its list of Top 10 instances of Abuse of Power.
What actually happened?
For its 22 telecommunication zones, India has a total of 281 licenses which are granted to telecom companies to set up operations. According to the CAG audit, Department of Telecommunication granted these licenses to ineligible foreign corporations violating several laws in the process. A valuable national asset was sold at a price much lower than its value and in favour of certain companies who had bribed the ministers and bureaucrats.
Licenses were awarded to companies on a first-come, first-serve basis in September 2007 at the price of 2001 without following the mandatory procedure of competitive bidding. To favour a certain set of companies, the application filing date was shifted from October 1 to September 25 and opened for just one hour. The companies with insider information successfully applied while many contenders missed. DOT also handed over licenses to foreign companies that were ineligible as per the rules.
In November, the Prime Minister, as well as the Finance Ministry, wrote letters to the then Minister of Telecommunications and IT, A. Raja, raising procedural concerns over the allotment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requested A. Raja to carry out the allotment in a transparent manner and requested him to revise the fee, but all concerns were ignored by A. Raja and he proceeded forward with his initial game plan.
In May 2009, complaints were filed in the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the apex Indian body to address government corruption, CVC directed CBI and CAG to take the investigation forward. By March 2010, both, the Supreme Court and the High Court had ruled that the advancement of application date was unconstitutional and illegal. In November 2010, CAG submitted its audit report estimating a national loss of Rs. 1.76 lakh crores which ultimately forced Raja to resign immediately. Following several raids to his house in search of evidences, A. Raja was finally arrested by CBI in February 2011, on charges of fraud and corruption.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on petitions filed by Subramanian Swamy and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) represented by Prashant Bhushan, challenging the 2008 allotment of 2G license, cancelling all 122 spectrum licences granted during Raja’s term as communications minister.
After almost a decade of court proceedings, a special CBI court acquitted all the accused on the grounds that the case lacked any substantial evidence against the accused. The verdict came as a surprise to many. What makes us sorry is the fact that they have been acquitted not because of their innocence but because of the inability of our system to prove their crime.
A tale of contradictions
CAG comes up with an audit report estimating a loss of Rs. 1.76 lakh crores and CBI arrests dozens of men based on this report. But when CBI conducts another audit of the scam independent of the CAG, the loss estimations are found somewhere in the region of Rs. 30 thousand crores which is still huge but one-sixth of the initial estimations. The Supreme Court cancels the issued licenses because the process of issue was unconstitutional and illegal, it also fines the companies involved in it for carrying out fraud, but the special CBI court mocks the Supreme Court and itself in its final judgement as it fails to find any culprits for the carried out illegal activities.
The mysterious part
Was the CAG report manipulated to create headlines that serve the political purpose of parties not in power, or were the CBI proceedings and audits manipulated to ensure that the culprits walk out clean, or maybe both? No one will ever know for sure, but what we do know now is that ultimately, it’s the people with money and political connect who own the system. We may boast to the world that we are the largest democracy with institutions that regulate the proceedings, but when cases like these end up with no punishments, we mock the very institutions we are so proud of and tarnish the image of our country irreversibly on the international forefront.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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