The Supreme Court's judgement on 2G of cancelling the 122 licenses awarded in 2008 is a landmark one.
It has held for the first time – at least on this scale – that public property secured through fraud and corrupt practices are liable for cancellation. As has rightly been noted, this has implications far beyond telecom. Mining is another area where similar arbitrary practice of giving away public property continues. Hundreds of thousands of crores in coal, iron and petroleum/gas reserves have been gifted to the corporate class, all under policies that are equally defective. All these need to be reviewed, if not for the past, at least for the future.
The UPA believes that it has got a reprieve, as Chidambaram, the Finance Minister during the award of these 122 licenses has not been held a co-accused with Raja. The CBI Court has stated that while Chidambaram was a party to the decision on license fees, this by iteself does not constitute criminal intent or conspiracy. In other words, Chidambaram is not guilty, as he was an innocent and naïve minister, mislead by the “cunning” Raja in giving away scarce national resources at throw-away prices. A fool, perhaps but not a knave.
After the judgement, Kapil Sibal, the Minister taking charge of telecom after Raja, has been holding forth on how the cancellation of licenses has somehow vindicated the Government, even though the court has struck down one of the key economic decisions taken by the UPA. The issue here is not whether the Prime Minister or the then Finance Minister were personally a part of a criminal conspiracy. Both were clearly in the know that a massive scam was under way, and despite this knowledge failed to act to protect the interests of the people. The Finance Minister as guardian of the country's finances had the power and authority to prevent the scam. So did the PM. That they did not, is an indictment of the then UPA Government. And as head of the Government, the PM failed in his duty as well.
Sibal had been arguing that Raja committed only some “procedural” lapses on which justice will take its course but had been defending the key elements of Raja's policies – the infamous first-come-first-serve policy of allocating licenses and keeping the license fees in 2008 the same as in 2001. Raja can be sacrificed but not the interests of the capitalist class. It is only to protect the ill-gotten gains of the corporate houses in the 2G scam that Sibal had been arguing that there is zero-loss. Any other position would then need an answer on the steps to be taken for recovering the loss. The CPI(M) and the Left had been demanding that it is not enough to have criminal proceedings against Raja; what is required is to recover the huge loss to the exchequer. The Supreme Court has finally now settled this issue – cancelling the licenses have been given at throw away prices, declaring the policy of first-come-first-serve as illegal and unconstitutional and asking for a fresh auction.
The Supreme Court verdict addressed only the question of the 122 licenses that were given in 2008 to new entrants as this was the case before it. It did not pronounce on the 25 licenses that have given between June, 2004 and March, 2007 on a similar first-come-first-serve basis. For the same reason, it did not strike down the “dual use” technology licenses either – allowing Reliance and Tata Teleservices to get GSM license and spectrum on the basis of their CDMA licenses.
The Reliance and Tata Teleservices securing GSM licenses and spectrum is identical to that of the 122 licenses issued by Raja for “new” operators and was done around the same time. The Court has also commented on this as had the CAG. The question is whether the government will take the cue from the present judgement and review these dual use technology licenses or will they wait for another challenge before the court? Going by past record, Sibal is too busy confusing the people on the telecom case rather than evolve transparent policy based on equity as the court has asked for.
It is time that Kapil Sibal started being a Minister for Communications & Information Technology and stops being a lawyer for UPA. This Government sorely needs vision and policies and not lawyers defending the indefensible.