I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge,” Special CBI judge O.P. Saini said, while acquitting all the accused, including former Telecommunications Minister A. Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi, in the 2G spectrum allocation cases. Congress leaders, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have interpreted the verdict as vindication of their stand that allegations “of a major scam involving the highest levels of the government were incorrect.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, on the other hand, has maintained that the UPA government’s 2G spectrum policy was “intended to promote corruption”. Such politically-loaded assertions — inevitable as they might be — should not obscure the fact: The verdict raises serious questions over the manner in which the CBI conducted its investigation.
The trial in the 2G spectrum case, which cost the then UPA government heavily in political terms, began in 2011 after the special court framed charges against Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others accused by the CBI. The agency alleged that the allocation of 122 licences for the spectrum had cost the exchequer Rs 30,894 crore — these licences were later scrapped by the Supreme Court. Raja was accused of taking bribes to arbitrarily change norms to benefit companies and individuals, overruling the objections of the then telecom regulator and the PMO. Kanimozhi faced allegations about her ties with Kalaignar TV, which was accused of being a beneficiary of bribes in return for 2G licences granted to Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd. The CBI alleged that Swan was a front for Reliance ADAG. In six years, however, the investigative agency failed to provide the court “any evidence of criminality”. Questioning the agency’s ways of collecting evidence, the Special Court quotes a Supreme Court verdict of 2004: “A few bits here and a few bits there on which the prosecution relies cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused in the offence of criminal conspiracy”. At another place, it asks, “How is it that the prosecution could not collect even a single appointment chart or a visitor’s register in which the meeting of the three (other) accused with the minister (Raja) would have been shown?”. The court indicted the agency for relying on “conjectures and speculations alone”.
In 2012, while dealing with the legality of the spectrum allocations by the UPA government, the Supreme Court held that the licences were “granted in an arbitrary and unconstitutional manner”. The companies whose licences were cancelled by the court included those with investments from foreign players such as Telenor of Norway, the UAE’s Etisalat and Russia’s Sistema. Investor confidence in the telecom sector was dented, impacting more than 3 per cent of bank loans in the country. Now, the acquittals by the special court has further muddied the waters. The CBI has said it will appeal against the verdict. It needs to do much better than the shoddy investigation it conducted in the past six years.