But expert report on value of spectrum is in ‘consonance' with CBI case on loss

The prosecution on Thursday said the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's expert report on “2001 to 2008: “Value of Spectrum in the 1800 MHz Band” was in “consonance” with the CBI case on loss to the exchequer, but came down heavily on the TRAI for attaching a covering letter which, it said, was “uncalled for” and “differed” from the contents of the expert report.

(A relevant portion of the covering letter, written by TRAI Secretary R. K. Arnold to CBI DIG S. K. Palsania, said the TRAI recommendations “always kept in view the need for growth of the telecom sector including in semi-urban and rural areas, the need for maintaining a level-playing field against the backdrop of the entry of new players from time to time and the need to ensure that prices of telecom services were affordable to consumers. The TRAI repeatedly held the view that telecom services and spectrum should not be treated as a source of revenue for the government.”)

Special Public Prosecutor U. U. Lalit said he was not “completely relying” on the TRAI report but “the court may use it as it deems fit to decide the matters.” He pointed out that the TRAI report had priced spectrum in a band of Rs.5,500 crore-Rs.9,500 crore for each operator. “Even if we take the lowest band, that is Rs.5,500 crore, the prosecution is not far off the mark on the loss estimate of Rs.30,000 crore that the charge sheet mentions. Rs.30,000 crore is a rational and correct estimate. But what the covering letter is doing is something that in our opinion is totally uncalled for,” Mr. Lalit said, adding the prosecution was not relying on the covering letter.

At this point, Shahid Balwa, one of the accused in the 2G spectrum scam case, interjected to ask: “So are you withdrawing the document?”

“We can't withdraw the document. You can't ask me questions. Tell your lawyer, if you have anything to ask me,” said Mr. Lalit.

“My lawyer is not here.”

“In that case, good luck to you.”

At this, Special Judge O. P. Saini beckoned to the security guard to take Mr. Balwa away from the Bench. When Mr. Balwa prayed that he be allowed to stay put, Mr. Saini said in a grave tone: “Stand silently.”

On the Law Ministry's opinion on the definition of “associate,” the CBI told the court that it had received an unsolicited letter, dated September 7, from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The CBI alleged that Swan Telecom was an associate company of Reliance Telecom on the date it applied for the UAS licence and was thus ineligible to apply according to licence guidelines.

The agency said the DoT received a note, dated August 30, from the Law Ministry in response to a letter it had written on August 16, seeking a clarification on the definition of “associate.” The CBI said it had not sought an opinion on this aspect from either the DoT or the Ministry.

Mr. Lalit said the Law Ministry's opinion was not relied upon as a document by the prosecution, but the accused can use it at an appropriate stage of the trial for their defence.

The former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, arguing personally for 15 minutes, said he was being “targeted” though the issue of spectrum pricing and entry fee had been deliberated by the Telecom and Finance Ministries and the DoT.

He questioned the claim that the number of licences granted by his predecessors in the Ministry was “minuscule.” “Dayanidhi Maran, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Shourie issued 56 licences. I issued 122 licences. How come 56 becomes minuscule in relation of 122?”

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