Friday, 3 February 2012. The Supreme Court verdict cancelling the 122 telecom licences issued by former communications minister A. Raja is one more indictment of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-2 government, which has been reeling under the 2G spectrum scam for nearly two years and has still not heard the end of it.
Thursday’s cancellation of licences for the reckless manner in which these were dished out at throwaway prices comes barely two days after the Supreme Court, in strident terms, pulled up the Prime Minister’s Office for the long delay in according sanction for the prosecution of Mr Raja in the 2G spectrum case. There is no doubt that the government’s coffers will benefit by this judgment as the court has asked telecom regulator TRAI to make fresh recommendations on grant of licences and the government should take a decision on this within a month.
This is a windfall for the government at a time when it is struggling to meet its fiscal deficit target, as it could earn even more than the `1 lakh crore that it got from the auction of 3G licences because the spectrum to be auctioned is much more.
In the case of 2G, licences were also given to those who were in no way connected with the telecom industry but had the political clout to wangle a licence and then sell it for ten times what they paid. Many foreign telecom operators have been caught on the wrong foot in this as they bought their licences from such entities.
As this unprecedented judgment becomes public and is analysed and digested, one thing is certain: that this government will have to think ten times before throwing procedure and policy to the wind in favour of cronies and at the cost of the nation.
The apex court observed that spectrum is a scarce commodity worldwide and, in the case of India where the defence ministry owns spectrum and gave some to the government for commercial purposes, the government went ahead and gave it away at throwaway prices. The government was cautioned by the then finance secretary to review the way the 2G prices were fixed and Trai, too, had laid down that the group of ministers should fix the price of spectrum. But all this was given the boot.
Even more importantly, the government cannot escape court scrutiny. It had challenged the court’s jurisdiction, arguing that the court has limited powers and cannot go into government policy matters. The court said that when decisions taken by the government contravene laid-down policy, and are against public interest, the court can intervene. One aspect of this 2G scam that remains unattended is the alleged bribe money. If the sale of 2G spectrum is a `1.76 lakh crore scam and the CBI has traced only `200 crore, surely the remaining amount must have gone to someone somewhere.