The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to heed the view of its outgoing director AP Singh with regard to prosecuting public officials and private companies in the matter of the grant of excess spectrum in 2002 during the NDA government's regime. Accordingly, the investigating agency can now file charge sheets and prosecute former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone. In November 2011, the CBI had carried out raids at the offices of the companies concerned as also the residences of Ghosh and another government official, JR Gupta.
Although the development comes as a setback for Bharti and Vodafone, which were not beneficiaries in the grant of licences and spectrum by then telecom minister A Raja in 2008, it comes as a breather for Bharti's chairman and managing director Sunil Mittal. The officer investigating the 2G case had sought the prosecution of Mittal along with that of Ghosh but the CBI's director (prosecution) had differed on the issue, stating that neither Mittal nor the companies concerned should be charged. The CBI director had said that Ghosh and the accused companies (not Mittal) may be prosecuted, while soliciting the advice of the attorney general (AG).
On Thursday the opinion of the AG, GE Vahanvati, was also placed in a sealed cover before a bench comprising justices GS Singhvi and KS Radhakrishnan. After perusing the report, the bench directed the CBI to go by the view of its director in taking further action on the allocation of spectrum when the late Pramod Mahajan of the BJP was telecom minister.
"We are of the opinion that CBI will take action in accordance with the view expressed by CBI director against some persons and companies," the bench said. The court said the retirement of the present director will not come in the way and the agency will proceed with his view as he is the highest functionary in the CBI and he has taken a particular view.
In the earlier hearing, the bench had questioned why the CBI was seeking the AG's opinion on the issue when the government had appointed a special public prosecutor for the prosecution of the cases arising out of the investigation in the 2G spectrum scam.
As is known, the CBI had expanded its probe into the 2G spectrum scam of 2008 centring around Raja to include all spectrum allocations since 2001. This was done after Kapil Sibal, who took charge of the telecom ministry after Raja, said that spectrum allocations without auctions were done by the NDA government also. Subsequently, he constituted a one-man inquiry under retired justice Shivraj Patil, which pointed out a number of irregularities.
Broadly, the CBI's charge is that Bharti and Vodafone were beneficiaries of the department of telecommunications' move on January 31, 2002, to allocate additional spectrum. It has said that Mahajan and Ghosh showed undue haste in clearing the proposal, bypassing the Telecom Commission, Trai, member (finance) and the wireless advisor.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was appearing for NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, had said in an earlier hearing that "difference of opinion between the two wings of CBI has become a pattern" and it is all to protect the chairman of Bharti Group, Sunil Mittal.
The case was registered under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.