Charges filed against Bharti Airtel, Vodafone

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 22 2012, 06:27am hrs
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday filed a charge sheet alleging irregularities in spectrum allocation during 2002-03 to Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India (then divided into two companies Sterling Cellular and Hutchison Max) beyond 6.2 MHz, pegging the loss to the exchequer at R846 crore. However, no names of any officials or promoters of the respective companies have been mentioned. The then telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh has also been chargesheeted by CBI for allegedly conspiring with the companies and telecom minister Pramod Mahajan to grant the additional spectrum. Since Mahajan is no more, CBI has not proposed any action against him.

This is the fourth charge sheet filed by the CBI in the 2G spectrum case; however, politically, it is relevant because it is the first which relates to the NDA governmentperiod.

The accused have been chargesheeted under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act relating to misconduct by public servant by accepting illegal gratification by abusing his official position.

The charge sheet which was filed before the special CBI Judge OP Saini mentions 73 witnesses in the case including the then deputy director general in the department of telecommunications, JR Gupta. When the CBI had registered an FIR in the case in November 2011, it had mentioned Guptas name also and raided him.

The court will consider the charge sheet on January 14.

Though Bharti and Vodafone declined comment on Friday, previously, they had denied any wrongdoing.

Broadly, the CBIs charge is that Bharti and Vodafone were beneficiaries of the department of telecommunications move on January 31, 2002 to allocate additional spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz and subsequently from 8 MHz to 10 MHz. It says the then telecom minister, the late Mahajan and Ghosh showed undue haste in clearing the proposal bypassing the Telecom Commisssion, Trai, member (finance) and the wireless advisor. Ghosh, in conspiracy with Mahajan and the accused companies, is alleged to have granted the additional spectrum with a spectrum usage charge of 1% of their adjusted gross revenue instead of 2%.

The CBI says while the technical committee of the DoT had recommended allotting additional spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz only after the operator reached a subscriber base of 9 lakh, DoT reduced it to 4 lakh for applying for additional spectrum and 5 lakh for actual allocation.

Explaining the quid pro quo, CBI has stated that Mahajan initiated a note on May 30, 2002 to create a post of USO fund administrator for Ghosh who retired as telecom secretary on May 31. The note was sent to PM and was approved on the same day. Later, it was approved by Cabinet Committee on Appointments. Ghosh was subsequently appointed as USO find administrator and remained in office for three years. However, after his retirement, the Cabinet downgraded the post to the rank of additional secretary with the criteria that only a serving officer can be appointed to the office.

As is known, the CBI had expanded its probe into the 2G spectrum scam of 2008 centering around former telecom minister A Raja to include all spectrum allocations since 2001. This was done after telecom minister Kapil Sibal who took charge of the telecom ministry after Raja said spectrum allocation without auctions were done by the NDA government as well. Subsequently, he instituted an inquiry under retired justice Shivraj Patil, which pointed out a number of irregularities.