In giving a clean chit to former Telecom Minister A Raja, a court on Thursday said there was no evidence to suggest that he was the “mother lode of conspiracy” in the so-called 2G scam created “by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels”.
Special Judge O.P. Saini noted in his 1,552-page judgment that it was actually a confusion caused by “various actions and inactions” of the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) that snowballed into a “huge scam seen by everyone where there was none”.
“The genesis of the case lies not so much in the actions of Raja… There is no material on record to show that Raja was mother lode of conspiracy in the case. There is also no evidence of his no holds barred immersion in any wrongdoing, conspiracy or corruption,” Judge Saini said.
Raja, the main accused in the case, spent 15 months in jail for alleged wrongdoings in the spectrum allocation after the CBI accused him of taking kickbacks in the form of Rs 200 crore to allot lucrative radio waves to telecom firms.
The alleged scandal rocked the UPA government led by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011, majorly costing the Congress-led alliance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The so-called scam hit the headlines after the Comptroller and Auditor General led by Vinod Rai in an audit report alleged that Raja sold spectrum and telecom licences to private firms at throwaway prices, causing a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer.
The judge said the chargesheet by the CBI was based “mainly on misreading, selective reading, non-reading and out of context reading of the official record”.
“There is no evidence indicating any criminality in the acts allegedly committed by the accused persons relating to fixation of cut-off date, manipulation of first-come-first-served policy, allocation of spectrum to dual technology applicants, ignoring ineligibility of STPL and Unitech group companies, non-revision of entry fee and transfer of Rs 200 crore to Kalaignar TV as illegal gratification.”
The judge also pulled up the DoT saying the policy decisions of the department were found to be scattered in different official files and that had made it difficult even to its officials to trace and understand them.
“Policy issues are strewn around here and there in a disorderly manner… leaving scope for controversy. Files are opened and closed too quickly in a haphazard manner even for a small issue and there is no systematic way of dealing with issues in one file in a sequential manner.
“Documents relating to one issue are placed or inserted whimsically in any file without any regard for the relevance of the issue.”
He said all this had made it “very difficult… to understand the progress of the case from beginning to end.
“This factor greatly contributed to the controversy in the case as the DoT could neither effectively communicate the issues to others nor others could understand the same. The issues got snowballed when media reports started appearing,” the judge said.
Judge Saini cited a November 8, 2007 report in a business daily that highlighted that Telecom Ministry had not accepted the recommendations of TRAI and DoT for auction of 2G spectrum which caused a loss of Rs 10,000 crore to the exchequer.
The news was denied by the DoT as “factually incorrect” but “nobody believed the version of DoT”, said the judge.
“These factors compelled people to conjecture about a big scam. Thus, some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels.”
Judge Saini said the lack of clarity in the policies as well as guidelines added to the confusion.
“The guidelines have been framed in such technical language that meaning of many terms are not clear even to DoT officers. When the officers of the department themselves do not understand the departmental guidelines and their glossary, how can they blame companies/others for violation of the same?
“The worst thing is that despite knowing that the meaning of a particular term was ambiguous and may lead to problems, no steps were taken to rectify the situation. Large part of the controversy relates to interpretation of (a) clause dealing with substantial equity. The terms used in this clause include ‘associate’, ‘promoter’, ‘stake’.
“No one in the DoT knows their meaning. The interpretation is haunting the DoT. In such circumstances, DoT officers themselves are responsible for the entire mess.”