The Special CBI Court conducting the trial on 2G spectrum case on Thursday demolished all allegations that there were 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 Rs 846 crore. The court not only discharged all the three accused – apart from the two companies, the then telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh – but also directed the Central Bureau of Investigation director to conduct an inquiry against its `erring officials’ as it termed the charge sheet `false and fabricated’.
The ruling of the of the special court will also embarrass the Congress party and former telecom minister Kapil Sibal who in the aftermath of 2G spectrum scam of 2007-08 had alleged that this was not the first scam but had happened way back in 2002 during the NDA government’s regime.
Special CBI Judge O P Saini observed that CBI tried to mislead the court and the charge sheet filed by it was full of “distorted facts”.
“I am reading out the last paragraph of the order. It’s a false and fabricated charge sheet and there is no incriminating evidence against any of the accused so they are discharged. The charge sheet is full of distorted facts and an attempt has been made to mislead the court,” the judge said. The “CBI director is directed to make an inquiry against erring officials”, the court said.
The CBI had filed the charge sheet in 2012 – its fourth in the 2G spectrum case — alleging irregularities in spectrum allocation during 2002-03 to the two companies. However, no names of any officials or promoters of the respective companies were mentioned. The then telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh had also been charge sheeted for allegedly conspiring with the companies and the then telecom minister Pramod Mahajan to grant the additional spectrum. Since Mahajan was no more the agency had not proposed any action against him.
The accused were charge sheeted 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.
Broadly, the CBI’s charge was that Bharti and Vodafone were the beneficiaries of the department of telecommunication’s move on January 31, 2002 to allocate additional spectrum beyond 6.2 Mhz and subsequently from 8 Mhz to 10 Mhz. It had said that 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 was alleged to have granted the additional spectrum with a spectrum usage charge of 1% of their adjusted gross revenue instead of 2%.
The CBI had also said that while the technical committee of the DoT had recommended to allot 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 had 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 fund 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 that spectrum allocation 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.