CBI under fire, again

The special court of judge O P Saini on Thursday announced a remarkable verdict in what is known as the 2G scam case, which had rocked the telecom sector and played a major role in allegations about massive corruption under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. The case involved allocation in 2008 of 122 telecom licences, bundled with spectrum at prices determined in 2001, on a first-come, first-served basis by former telecom minister A Raja. On trial were 16 other individuals, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M K Kanimozhi and a host of top bureaucrats and business executives of some of the country’s top telecom companies. The scam was held to be the biggest in India’s history with the then Comptroller and Auditor General of India saying that by not auctioning these airwaves, the government suffered a notional loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pegged the loss at Rs 30,984 crore, and the Supreme Court declared the allocation of airwaves faulty and cancelled the 122 licences of nine telecom firms.

Eight years after the scam made national headlines, the case has been thrown out by the court, which acquitted all the accused, raising serious questions once again about the credibility of the CBI. The judge stated that the prosecution had failed miserably. More shameful for the CBI is the court’s observation that while the prosecution started the case with great enthusiasm and ardour, it later became “highly cautious and guarded” in its attitude and by the end of the case, “the quality of prosecution totally deteriorated and it became directionless and diffident”. In the judgment, the court details how the CBI failed to prove any wrongdoing on the part of the accused as there was little by way of actual proof about the allegations of Mr Raja parking Rs 200 crore in Kalaignar TV (P) Ltd or extending the deadline of applications to suit specific companies. The judge also stated that the prosecution even refrained from signing documents and replies before the court, thus robbing the whole process of any credibility.

The reactions by the political parties concerned were on predictable lines, with Congress leaders saying the party’s reputation had been redeemed and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders asking them not to treat the judgment as a certification that there was nothing wrong with the 2G allocation policy. The main issue, however, is much beyond this political mudslinging. Though the CBI has stated that it will appeal against the verdict in the Delhi High Court, Wednesday’s damning judgment has done enough damage to its reputation. For the time being, this verdict has left everyone confused about the whole process. That is because accusations such as the pricing of the spectrum as well as the arbitrariness in the process of allocation remain unresolved. Having opened this can of worms, the CBI risks further damage to its image unless it is able to back its claim with persuasive facts. There is no doubt that the judgment underscores the need for much greater maturity and case-building capability on the part of the CBI’s officers than they seem to have at present. The development also highlights the need for the CBI to have genuine independence so that it can acquire the credibility it needs badly for people to trust its actions.

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