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SC to pronounce verdict on plea for probe against PC tomorrow

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will tomorrow pronounce its judgements on the petitions seeking a direction for a probe into the alleged role of Home Minister P Chidambaram in 2G spectrum scam and for cancellation of 122 radiowave licences granted during the tenure of A Raja as Telecom Minister.

The judgements will be pronounced by a bench comprising justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly which had reserved its verdict on the plea for probe against Chidambaram and for cancellation of licences of spectrum on October 10 and March 17 respectively last year.

The unanimous verdicts on both the petitions would be pronounced by Justice Singhvi.
Since Justice Ganguly is retiring tomorrow, he will be sitting in a bench headed by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia.

The petitions on both the issues were filed by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) and Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy.

The role of Chidambaram in the 2G scam was raised in the Supreme Court by the petitioners who had pointed out that there was evidence on record showing that the decision regarding pricing of spectrum was taken jointly by him and Raja.

A Finance Ministry note to the PMO signed by Pranab Mukherjee was also taken on record by the apex court in which it was stated that the scam could have been averted had Chidambram suggested the policy of auction instead of first-come-first-served policy on allocation of spectrum.

The Centre and CBI had vehemently opposed any probe against Chidambram who was the Finance Minister at the time of allotment of spectrum in 2008.

They had maintained that Chidambaram was not in direct communication with the then Telecom Minister A Raja in determining the price of the radio waves.

However, Swamy and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) had refuted the claims of CBI and the Centre that Chidambaram was not in the picture till January, 10, 2008, when the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) headed by Raja issued 122 Letters of Intent (LoIs) to telecom companies without following the policy of auction.

Swamy and CPIL’s counsel Prashant Bhushan had contended Chidambaram was “consistently” informed of what was going on and “till November 30, 2007, Chidambaram was apprised of what Raja was upto”.

Swamy and Bhushan said the Finance Ministry officials were for allocation of spectrum through auction but they were overruled by Chidambaram.

Swamy said there there were documents to show that Raja and Chidambaram met four times on the issue and had a meeting of minds in the commission of the offences.

It was also alleged by the petitioners that Chidambaram had advised Raja that it was legal to “dilute” the shares by telecom companies after getting licence though which Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless got huge profits by selling 45% and 60% respectively to two foreign firms Etisalat and Telenor.

Bhushan had said the facts stated a Finance Ministry note pointed to a “clear fact” that officials of the Finance Ministry repeatedly pointed out that spectrum allocation could not be determined by the entry fee of 2001.

“That it should be allocated through a market discovered price. It was impossible for Raja to move ahead without the concurrence of the then Finance Minister,” he had said.

“Despite the fact that the Finance Secretary had taken such a strong view which had been recorded in the DoT’s approach paper, Chidambaram chose to side with Raja on the issue of pricing,” he had said.

In the case relating to cancellation of licenses, people from civil society also approached the apex court to reverse the decision taken by Raja for telecom licences during his tenure as Telecom Minister.

Former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh, T S Krishnamurthy and N Gopalaswami, along with former Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar, moved the SC along with CPIL and Swamy.

They alleged Raja’s decision was marred by “multiple illegalities, corruption and favouritism”.

The proceeding in the case had witnessed a virtual telecom war with the old service providers contending spectrum alloted to them are valid and they should not be compared with new players whose licenses are under the judicial scrutiny.

Established companies like Vodafone and Aircel opposed the contentions of Swan, Videocon and Shyam Telecom which had pleaded that if the court decides to cancel their allotment of spectrum, it should be applied retrospectively from 1995 as the natural resources have been alloted under the same policy.

The companies had claimed their contract with the government on spectrum allotment cannot be quashed once it has been agreed upon.

The petitioners had contended even the telecom sector regulator TRAI has recommended cancellation of 69 out of the 122 licences as the licencees had failed to roll out their services in time as per the conditions stipulated for grant of licences.
The bench had earlier issued notices to TRAI and 11 private telecom companies which were granted licences despite allegedly being ineligible to secure them or had failed to launch services within the stipulated time-frame.

The telecom firms which were issued notices included Etisalat, Uninor, Loop Telecom, Videocon, S-Tel, Allianz Infra, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, Dishnet Wireless and Vodafone-Essar.

The telecom companies, which had come under scrutiny for having allegedly benefited in 2G spectrum scam had, however, refuted any illegality in allotment of spectrum and told the Supreme Court that allocation of the air waves since 2003 should be scrapped if the first-come-first-served policy adopted during Raja’s tenure as Telecom Minister is to be held illegal.

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