The Supreme Court will pronounce on Thursday its verdict on three important issues in the 2G case — the alleged role of P. Chidambaram, during his tenure as Finance Minister, in fixing spectrum price; and the pleas for cancellation of licences issued “illegally” to 11 companies and for continued monitoring of the CBI probe.
A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly reserved order on the petitions filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and others through advocate Prashant Bhushan and Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy. Justice Ganguly, retiring on Thursday, will share the Bench with Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia briefly. Justice Singhvi will deliver two verdicts touching all the three issues.
Dr. Swamy complained that the Central Bureau of Investigation had not even examined Mr. Chidambaram as a witness, and sought a direction that the Minister's role in fixing the price for spectrum allocation be probed by the agency.
Mr. Bhushan argued that the allotment of spectrum licence on a first come, first served (FCFS) basis, rather than by auction, at 2001 prices in 2008 was arbitrary as it caused a huge loss to the public exchequer. The allocated spectrum should be taken back by the government and re-auctioned, he demanded.
Dr. Swamy wanted all eligible applicants, who had applied before the pre-announced cut-off date of October 1, 2007, permitted to participate in the auction.
‘Raja to blame, not Chidambaram'
The Centre defended Mr. Chidambaram, saying he had no role in either price fixation or grant of licences. The consistent stand of the Finance Ministry and Mr. Chidambaram on entry fee, licences and spectrum was that they should be auctioned. Blaming the former Telecom Minister A. Raja, the Centre said it was he who had postponed a Full Telecom Commission meeting, from January 9, 2008 to January 15, 2008, where the issue of auction was to have been discussed. And again, Mr. Raja jumped the gun and issued the Letters of Intent to telecom companies on January 10, 2010, the Centre said and wondered how Mr. Chidambaram could be responsible for this. The then Finance Minister could not have cancelled the licences by himself as it was 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 of licences] and you cannot attach criminality to the [then] Finance Minister.”
The Centre also defended the telecom policy adopted since 1994 and said “spectrum was allocated on the basis of the policy decision which does not envisage auction.”
It said licences could not be cancelled only on the ground that the auction policy was not followed.
The FCFS policy, introduced in January 2001, was never referred to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for its opinion, the Centre said. The TRAI gave its recommendation that there should be no cap on the number of access service providers in each service area. The DoT did not deal with paucity of spectrum.
The CBI, opposing the plea for setting up a special investigation team to monitor its probe, said doing so would send wrong signals and affect its credibility.