CBI Judge O P Saini acquitted all the accused in the 2-G scam on Thursday. And, thereby, raised a huge question mark on the Supreme Court’s own credibility insofar as, relying on actionable evidence, it had outright cancelled 122 telecom licenses in February 2012 which were issued by the main accused A Raja’s Telecom Ministry. Raja walked a free man on Thursday, singing paeans in praise of the judiciary. Another politician, who recovered his voice to speak on the 2G scam was Manmohan Singh.
Former prime minister allowed himself a rare moment to gloat, though he said he did not want to: “I don’t want to boast anything. The judgement has to be respected…the court has pronounced unambiguously that the massive propaganda against the UPA was unfounded.” Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha, found vindication for Singh and the UPA in Judge Saini’s controversial verdict.
Rahul Gandhi reacted to the wholesale acquittal of all the accused, including former Telecom Secretary Siddartha Behura, in the same triumphant vein. However, the puzzling question remains: If the CBI Judge is correct in not finding any evidence of wrong-doing in the allocation of spectrum, presumably, on a first-come, first-served basis, then the apex court cannot be right in cancelling those licenses, can it be? The next step for the accused, including the Essar group’s Ruias, Unitech promoter Sanjay Chandra, D B Realty’s Shahid Balwa, and the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance’s top executives, should be for them to lawfully seek the restoration of those licenses.
Indeed, other marquee names from the corporate world which had likewise found their licenses axed with one fell blow of the apex court, such as Aditya Birla’s Idea, Tata Tele, S-Tel, Videocon, etc., too should join in seeking the restoration of the cancelled licenses. Indeed, one man more than anyone else who ought to be made to pay for what as per hon’ble Judge Saini would appear to be a grievous error of judgment is the former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai. His report said the country suffered a notional loss of Rs 1.76 crores due to Raja’s failure to auction the telecom spectrum, instead of giving it on a fraudulent first-come, first-serve basis. The least that Rai can do by way of penance is to give up the over-lordship of Indian cricket, now that his epochal report which had contributed hugely to the blackening of the UPA record has been nixed by the CBI court.
But, the fact is that Judge Saini’s acquittal does nothing to quell the widespread doubt about the quality of justice available in the country; nor does it clear the accused of the taint of scam which they had certainly perpetrated. Thursday’s verdict was of a piece with the earlier such judicial pronouncements which had resulted in atrocious orders giving a clean chit to the notorious Italian wheeler-dealer Ottavio Quattrocchi. Or the Sessions Court’s acquittal of the main accused in the Jessica Lal murder – happily, they were subsequently convicted by the High Court – and the Aarushi Talwar murder case.
In all these cases, the lower courts had erred in pronouncing the evidence inadequate, prosecution weak, and the defense team able and strong in picking holes in the evidence adduced by the CBI. Of course, given the rich and resourceful accused in the 2G case, it would be only fair to assume that they would have resorted to every trick under the sun to buy themselves freedom. They cannot be blamed for that. Nor can it be ruled out that the CBI, at least till the UPA was in power, would have shown no enthusiasm in prosecuting the case successfully.
But, we do think that Judge Saini ought not to have gone into extra-judicial territory, commenting on “unfounded propaganda against the UPA”. Will that propaganda become kosher once his questionable order is stayed or reversed by a higher court? Pronouncements such as this – ‘non-understanding of issues led to a suspicion of wrong-doing where there was none’ do no credit to a truly judicial mind. Given the evidence in public domain, how the first-come, first-serve policy itself was corrupted to accommodate a last-minute favourite ought to have persuaded Judge Saini not to go overboard in his blanket clean chit to the accused. Judicial restraint and reasoning is missing from Thursday’s headline-making acquittals. Which does nothing to enhance the stature of the judiciary or to restore peoples’ faith in it. The CBI must appeal and get an immediate stay against the atrocious verdict of the CBI court.