Former Law Minister H R Bhardwaj’s conduct while dealing with the issue relating to grant of new 2G licences was against “all established canons, discipline and protocol of government working”, a special court has said.
Special Judge O P Saini, while acquitting former telecom minister A Raja and others in 2G spectrum allocation cases, lashed out at the then law minister and former law secretary T K Vishwanathan for their conduct and termed the law ministry’s opinion given at that time as “wholly outlandish”.
The court said the opinion of the law ministry, to refer to an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) the matter relating to the issue of new licences and allocation of spectrum to dual technology applicants, was aimed at “creating unnecessary controversy”.
It said the EGoM was constituted to deal with vacation of spectrum and raising resources for the same and it was not meant for considering processing of applications received in the Department of Telecom (DoT) for the grant of unified access services (UAS) licences.
“In this background, the opinion of Law Ministry was wholly outlandish and was aimed at creating unnecessary controversy and stalling the process of licencing in the DoT,” the judge said.
The court noted that the DoT had in October 2007, written to the law secretary for seeking opinion of Attorney General (AG) of India/Solicitor General on the matters relating to the issue of new licences and allocation of spectrum to dual technology applicants.
It said that when the opinion was first sought, the joint secretary (law) had sent back the reference on the ground that full facts were not mentioned in the DoT’s request but later he again called back the file from the department unauthorisedly.
The file reached the law minister, who without any proposal, recorded “it is necessary that the whole issue is first considered by an empowered group of ministers and in that process legal opinion of AG can be obtained”, it noted.
“In giving this opinion, the conduct of the law secretary and the then law minister was against all established canons, discipline and protocol of government working. The law secretary and the law minister were working in tandem. Why? Because the file was called unauthorisedly from the DoT.
“The joint secretary and the secretary (law) had already dubbed the reference as not good for answer. The law secretary could have returned the file on his own, but he marked the file to the law minister,” the court said.
It said that if such an opinion was required to be given, it must have been given in the first instance itself.
“Still, if the law minister felt so strongly about the matter to be referred to the EGoM, he should have written either to the Prime Minister or to Raja, instead of recalling from DoT, a reference which had already been returned. Law Ministry had no business to surreptitiously recall the file in this manner. It was also equally uncalled for the law minister to give a wholly contrary opinion,” the court said.
The court noted that special public prosecutor Anand Grover, appearing for the CBI, had no answer to the question as to how the file could have been taken out of the custody of DoT by the then Deputy Director General (Access Licences) A K Srivastava without the permission of his superiors.
It said that the prosecution relied upon this advice of the law ministry against the accused with “great ardour” but it was of no use and was rightly termed as out of context by the DoT.