Column : Forget the JPC, look at CBI

Written by Sunil Jain | Updated: Dec 22 2010, 09:32am hrs
Its unfortunate, but the Opposition continues to focus on the JPC whereas what it needs to focus on is the CBI, apart from putting pressure on telecom minister Kapil Sibal to cancel at least 85 of the 122 licences A Raja issued when he was minister. Its not quite clear, by the way, what Sibal is studying before he comes to a decision on whether to cancel the licences since, presumably, Trai (which has recommended this for 69 licences), and the CAG (which has said 85 applicants were ineligible) have done all the studying needed.

The problem with the CBI, as was brought out in the Supreme Court over the last few days, is that the investigation is going nowhereits been over a year since the CBI filed its FIR, it has all the documents from the ministry, and it has made no visible progress, no arrests, nothing. Witness how, in contrast, it simply arrested top bank executives on Wednesday, including the chief of LIC Housing Financeno filing of an FIR for over a year and stuff like that. Given its record, its difficult to see how the CBI will now submit its report in 45 days, as it promised when it looked as if the Court may just accept the plea for supervising it. The CVC, to whom the CBI reports, the Court was told, was a former telecom secretary and so may not be able to do an impartial job since he did nothing to stop Raja when he was in the ministry.

The problem with the CBIs FIR, by the way, doesnt start with just the delays in action. It starts, as it were, at the very start. The FIR, filed on October 21, 2009, puts the loss at Rs 22,000 crore. Where it gets this figure from is unclear since the CAG has a completely different set of figuresRs 1,76,000 crore if you use the 3G auction prices (which hadnt happened at the time of the FIR) to Rs 69,626 crore if you use the rate at which Unitech sold its equity to Telenor.

It is shocking that the CAG, which got all its papers from the CBI, should have named the companies involved while the CBIs FIR talks of unknown officials of Department of Telecommunication, Govt of India, Unknown Private Persons, Companies and others. Surely, a year is enough time to figure out the names of these unknowns

We know the ministry announced its cut off date on September 24, 2007. Well, eight Unitech companies, the CAG report points out while listing various firms whose paperwork was incomplete, filed their applications on this very day!

Thirteen of the applicants, the CAG report says, had got their demand drafts ready even before the ministry announced, on January 10, 2008, that it would be processing applications received till September 25, 2007, and that the first company to make the payment would be the first in the linesince companies get 15 days to do the paperwork, no one ever gets the drafts made in advance. The names of these companies are there in the CAG report and it is easy to see who started the file to do this and who signed on the file. Surely, the CEOs of these firms should figure on the list of companies/individuals who caused the loss and who were part of the conspiracy.

We know from the CAG report that 85 of the 122 licences issued were to ineligible companiessince 111 applications were rejected out of the 232 received till September 25, the fact that these 85 were not rejected suggests foul play. Again, we know the names of the companies who got licences despite being ineligible and who the officials in charge of this scrutiny were.

The point is that there is little investigation that is required and, so far, the CBI hasnt even interrogated the top officials concerned. So there has been no meeting with former secretary S Behura who signed on the files, with Manju Madhavan who resigned after Raja pulled her up for opposing his plans, of Rajas former private secretary RK Chandolia Nor can it be anyones case that all of this was done by the low-level officials the CBI has been meeting in the telcos mentioned in the CAG report. We havent heard, so far, of any top official of any of the firms being asked to meet with the CBI. This is so obvious, the judges asked yesterday why the CBI had not even bothered to do this so farthey said it was the minimum expected of the CBI. Has the CBI got the phone records of the government officials and those of the private firms and examined the calls made between them and various persons in the ministry

None of this, and the snails pace of the CBI investigation, curiously, is something the Opposition is even bothering about.