There are many questions that demand clear and truthful answers in the 2G spectrum allocation controversy. With one political storm following another, and the opposition parties making Parliament dysfunctional on this issue, A. Raja, the man at the centre of it all, did the right thing in resigning as Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology. While denying any wrongdoing, he has insisted that he was persisting with a well-established policy in handing out 2G spectrum on a first-come first-served basis, instead of taking the auction route. This is no doubt true but serious questions relating to procedural irregularities and revenue losses remain. The size of the amount estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General to be the loss to the government — Rs.177,000 crore — and the implications of the procedural violations alleged — ignoring the advice of the Prime Minister, the Ministries of Law and Finance, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India — require that the United Progressive Alliance government allow a thorough probe that will protect no one, however high or powerful, involved in wrongdoing. Companies that won telecom licences and spectrum for Rs.1,651 crore in the first quarter of 2008 managed to attract investment indicating valuations of several times that amount from international telecom companies within a few weeks. Unitech Wireless Ltd., brought in the Norway-based Telenor Group and formed Uninor. Swan Telecom, promoted by the Dynamix Balwas Group, chose United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat as its international partner and formed Etisalat DB Telecom India. Unsurprisingly, these transactions, which took advantage of legal loopholes and bypassed the stipulation of the Department of Telecomunications that operators should not sell promoter equity within the first three years, immediately raised suspicion.
In the face of growing evidence that the first-come, first-served policy was depriving the exchequer of huge revenue, the auction route should have suggested itself to the government. The Manmohan Singh government must heed the call of public opinion and political India and consent to a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the entire controversy, beginning with the formulation of the National Telecom Policy 1994. JPCs might not be a politically impartial way of getting to the truth, and the JPC constituted in the Bofors case, which was boycotted by the main opposition parties and was packed with members of the Congress and its allies, was nothing but a cover-up device. The situation is quite different now — in the era of coalition governments. The constitution of a JPC must not be allowed to hamper the investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, and the Registrar of Companies. Nor should Mr. Raja's resignation be used as a ruse to pretend that with him gone, all is well with national telecom policy.