Throughout the six-year-long trial in the 2G spectrum case, the CBI argued that former telecom minister A Raja, whom it had charged with criminal breach of trust, had misled then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through two letters. The 1,552-page judgment passed by Special Judge O P Saini, however, shows that although the CBI investigation officer had seen all the PMO files where the letters had been processed, the agency did not summon these files during the trial.
The PMO files where the two letters were processed could have been the single piece of evidence that would have provided a pointer to how the PMO dealt with the letters. On November 2, 2007, Raja wrote the first letter to Singh, justifying the cutoff date of September 9. The CBI alleged that in this letter, Raja incorrectly described as out of context the opinion of the law ministry that the matter should be referred to the empowered group of ministers. After the PM’s reply to this letter, Raja wrote the second one, assuring him that there was no deviation or departure from existing rules and procedures, and that the decisions were being taken by the Department of Telecom (DoT) with full transparency.
The investigation officer
In his deposition, CBI investigation officer Vivek Priyadarshi told the court that he had seen the PMO files regarding the letters. He did not summon these documents, he added.
“I had visited the PMO and saw the concerned records, after which I sought relevant records from the PMO vide my letter dated 09.03.2011 and obtained the aforesaid six letters there itself. The files in which the aforesaid letters were processed were also not sought from the PMO, though these files were seen by me. I did not summon the documents referred in the note recorded by PMO,” Priyadarshi told judge Saini.
“Apart from P K Sharma (section officer), I did not record the statement of any official of PMO including the PM,” the investigation officer added. “It is correct that all these letters had also been seen by the senior officials of the PMO including the Prime Minister. I did not examine any other letter written by accused A Raja as MoC&IT to the Prime Minister. I have been shown note already Ex PW 82/DD (PMO file 3(b)) and this did not come across to me during investigation…” Priyadarshi’s deposition said.
“I also did not investigate as to how many meetings took place between the Prime Minister and the then Finance Minister and MoC&IT between aforesaid period. I also did not investigate as to how many meetings took place between Prime Minister and A Raja during the aforesaid period…”
One ministry, two opinions
On September 26, 2007, DoT had sought the advice of the law ministry on the issue of seeking the opinion of the attorney general/solicitor general on grant of new unified access service (UAS) licences and approval for the use of dual technology spectrum by the UAS license.
Joint secretary (law) P K Malhotra returned the reference to DoT on the ground that it did not have the full facts. The joint secretary marked the file to K Sridhara, member (telecom), the officer under whose signature the reference had been sent. The court noted that this file was sent again to the law ministry by deputy director general (access services) A K Srivastava on “his own initiative” without the approval of either K Sridhara or D S Mathur, then telecom secretary, or Raja.
“The file ought to have been moved out of the custody of DoT with the permission of the competent authority, but it was sent unauthorisedly by A K Srivastava knowing well that the reference had been returned unanswered by the law ministry on the ground of incomplete facts and documents,” the judge said. To the reference, the law minister had stated that the matter may be referred to the EGoM, the judgment noted.
The judge raised questions about the movement of the file: “How could an officer of the rank of joint secretary [A K Srivastava] take the file out of precincts of DoT without the approval of his superior officers and obtain a wholly contrary opinion thereon? Second: How could law ministry recall a file by oral orders and give an opinion entirely opposite to earlier one?”
The judge added the “circumstances” in which this contrary opinion was given by the law ministry were “wholly unreasonable and suspicious”. “It appears that the contrary opinion was aimed not at facilitating smooth disposal of applications by DoT, but stalling the process of issue of new licences by it,” he said.
Saini observed that returning the file to the law ministry, and the opinion of the law minister that the matter be referred to the EGoM, “may be” the reason for deliberately not producing the relevant files from the PMO. “This may be the reason that the prosecution has not deliberately produced the relevant file from the PMO in which the letters dated 02.11.2007, Ex PW 7/A (first letter) and PW 7/B (second letter), written by A Raja, were dealt with. In the absence of any contrary material, it is reasonable to presume that the Prime Minister agreed with the view of A Raja that there was no need to refer the matter to EGoM,” Saini said.
The second letter
The judgment notes that the CBI chose to examine just one witness from the PMO — P K Sharma, section officer — in connection with how Raja’s letters were processed. He identified the signatures of Singh at two places and the signature of his principal secretary T K A Nair. This letter showed, according to the court, that Singh wrote “urgent” and “please discuss” and marked it to Nair, who then wrote, “Discussed with PM” and marked the letter to joint secretary Vinni Mahajan.
These notings made by Singh and Nair, the court observed, “do no indicate” how the letter was processed. “However, the file in which this letter was processed in the PMO has not been produced before the court,” the court observed. “The letter was discussed by the Prime Minister with the principal secretary. No one from the PMO has been examined as a witness, nor the relevant file has been produced before the court. The then Prime Minister has also not been examined as a witness. As such, there is no material on record as to what was the fate of this letter in the PMO.” It notes that the second letter by Raja did not even have the noting of officials of the PMO — raising the question as to whether the PM had even seen this letter.
“There is not a scrap of evidence on the record even to show that letter, Ex PW 7/B [second letter] was placed before the Prime Minister or at least brought to his notice… letter Ex PW 7/B is the original copy. On this letter there is no noting by anyone. P K Sharma in his cross-examination deposed that he did not know if this letter was deliberated upon in the PMO or not. In this situation, there is no material on record as to how this letter was dealt with in the PMO,” the judgment stated.