Being a major policy decision, it could have been taken only by the government

The Central Bureau of Investigation on Thursday strongly defended P. Chidambaram in the Supreme Court, saying he could not be accused of not having done anything to prevent the 2G spectrum allocation scam or cancel licences during his tenure as Union Finance Minister. Cancellation of licences, being a major policy decision, could have been done only by the government and not by Mr. Chidambaram alone.

“It is easy to attack the then Finance Minister as it will get them headlines and [it is] politically fruitful for them. Attacking the then Finance Secretary [D. Subbarao] will not get them headlines,” senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the CBI, told a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly

Counsel said the consistent stand of the Finance Ministry and Mr. Chidambaram on entry fee, licences and spectrum was that they should be auctioned. But the then Telecom Minister, A. Raja, postponed a Full Telecom Commission meeting, scheduled for January 9, 2008, where the issue of auction was to have been discussed, to January 15, 2008.

Mr. Venugopal said Mr. Raja jumped the gun and issued Letters of Intent to telecom companies on January 10, 2008. The then Finance Minister could not have cancelled the licences by himself as it had to be a major policy decision by the government. “It is not an easy matter to take a decision when litigation was also involved [as a result of cancellation] and you cannot attach criminality against the [then] Finance Minister.”

Opposing the plea for the constitution of a special investigation team to monitor the 2G case probe, as demanded by advocate Prashant Bhushan representing the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, Mr. Venugopal said the CBI was an independent agency and was conducting the investigation in one of the most high profile cases in the history of India. As a result of independent investigations, a Minister [Raja], a member of a coalition partner in the government, and Ms. Kanimozhi, daughter of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi, were arrested and the role of one more former Minister [Dayanidhi Maran] was being probed. The constitution of a SIT would suggest that the CBI was deviating from its path of independent investigation, which was not correct as was borne out by the series of status reports submitted by the agency.

The CBI officers were doing their duty day and night and investigation of this magnitude could have normally taken at least a year and a half to be completed. The Ministries of Law and Corporate Affairs and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had given unsolicited opinions, but the CBI was not prepared to accept them. “We have not accepted the report of the TRAI on zero loss,” counsel said. Counsel produced the 500-page document prepared by the then Finance Secretary D. Subbarao [now RBI Governor] and explained how the Full Telecom Commission meeting was postponed and a decision to issue licences was taken by Mr. Raja.

Justice Singhvi drew counsel's attention to some missing papers and asked him get them included on Friday.

Arguments will continue on October 10.

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