Former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh said he was ‘relieved’ by the order of the special court to clear him of any charges of wrongdoing in the allotment of telecom airwaves. Speaking to The Indian Express, Ghosh said it was ‘a long battle he had to wage’ in the courts — the price for deciding on a government policy which he was satisfied was completely rightly.
The special 2G court on Thursday ruled in favour of Ghosh and three telecom firms in what has come to be known as the additional spectrum case. What the courts have upheld is that these three — the erstwhile Hutchison Max, Sterling and Bharti Cellular — had done nothing wrong when they were allocated those airwaves.
The case is about events in the year 2002. These three companies had been initially allotted 4.4 Mhz of spectrum in the 900 MW band which was proving inadequate for them. They had then been given an additional 1.8 Mhz of spectrum to take them to 6.2. The government charged them what is known as spectrum usage charge for the additional airwaves. Those rates too, beginning from 2 per cent were scaled upwards over time. A key element in the policy then was that airwaves were to be given to spread telecom connectivity and not with the objective of revenue maximization by the government. Hence the rates were demonstrably low.
In 2007 when the first telecom auctions were held for 3G airwaves, the pent up demand from industry became apparent. By 2012, CBI which had been asked by the Supreme Court to investigate if a bunch of subsequent allocations made in 2008 were fair, extended the investigation back to earlier years.
It framed a case that the allotments of 2002 were also malafide in the light of the hindsight of the success of the auctions of 2007. Hence it charged that the additional airwaves given to these three companies were made out at a loss to the exchequer. Again, using the estimates from the auctions it posted the loss at Rs 844 crore.
A crucial element the investigating agency adduced as evidence was that Ghosh as the telecom secretary had not referred those allocation decisions to the member (finance) in the telecom commission. It was this which proved the malafide the agency held. And this was held as evidence that the secretary had played favourites with the companies— hence a suspect. It is this line of argument which the special court has termed as ‘distorted and fabricated’.
The case frankly gained mass attention because the UPA-II government was facing the heat from the clearly messy allocations made by its telecom minister A Raja to all sorts of companies in 2008. Those cases are still continuing. The case against Ghosh was an attempt to divert the attention to preceding allotment decisions.
As the court has held there was no comparison possible at all but a cornered political formation needed an escape route by claiming there was a precedent for the allocations of 2008. It will be interesting to see if these strictures against CBI now make it necessary to investigate who was responsible for coming up with such a trumped up case.