SC opinion on Presidential Reference brings constitutional clarity: Sibal
Hailing Supreme Court judgement on auction of natural resources, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal on Thursday said the apex court has brought "constitutional clarity" on the issue.
New Delhi: The government Thursday hailed the Supreme Court's 'Constitutional clarity' on allocation of natural resources and had a dig at the CAG who had flayed the government for not auctioning natural resources like spectrum and coal.
Soon after the Supreme Court held that auction was not a Constitutional requirement for allocation of natural resources, UPA ministers termed it as a "vindication" of the government stand.
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said institutions like CAG "might have perhaps unwittingly and erroneously interpreted the SC judgement relating to the 2G case and thought that all natural resources must be auctioned".
"The SC has provided Constitutional clarity today and we welcome it," he said.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in cases of allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks had said undue benefits worth lakhs of crores were extended by not allocating the scarce natural resource through auction.
"This judgement applies to all of us. It applies to executive, it applies to court to all other Constitutional authorities. There is no Constitutional authority to which this judgement does not apply and I am sure that all Constitutional authority will apply their mind to this judgement and proceed accordingly," Sibal said.
Terming the verdict as a "vindication" of what the government has been saying on the issue of 2G spectrum allocation, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said, "Today, it is clear that what we did was right, therefore, it is a relief... it is comforting."
To a query on whether the government will rethink its policy on coal block allocation in the wake of SC judgement, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said, "We will think on it in the light of today's Supreme Court judgement. We will let you know about the government's policy thereafter."
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said there was never a doubt in government that "there was no Constitutional mandate for auction."
"When a state has to take decisions, public good has to be kept in mind... The SC has also upheld, that it is public good which is important, and revenue maximisation is subservient to that, not the other way round," Sharma said.
"And all national resources (are) not meant to be auctioned."
Replying to a volley of questions on the attack mounted by the Opposition on the issue of 2G against the government, Khurshid said, "the Opposition parties should respect the courts. Nobody would listen to us. They attacked us after the (February, 2012) judgement (of Supreme Court), now our stand has been vindicated... People, including the Opposition had put question mark on the decisions of the government."
Sibal said the judgement has brought about "enormous clarity with which government can start taking decision without fearing there will be interference from other Constitutional authorities."
He said the judgement clearly states that policy issue is entirely within the domain of the executive, "especially in the context of the economic policies".
"It is for us to decide. The Supreme Court order says it is for the government to decide policy. We may decide to auction, we may decide not to auction. We may decide limited competitive bidding. These are issues that we will decide depending on the natural resource and how we wanted to distribute it," he said.
The Supreme Court order, however, added the court can intervene if the decisions taken pursuance to the policy are not implemented properly.
"Clearly any implementation of the policy, if it falls foul of the constitution, the Court has ample jurisdiction to deal with it by striking down those decisions," Sibal said.
"This is exactly what the government's position was earlier and this is exactly what the court has said, so the government's position has accordingly been fully vindicated," he added.
The Telecom Minister made it clear that the judgement on cancellation of 122 licences would be respected and auction would be conducted for the spectrum that has been made available pursuant to the cancellation licences as per schedule.
"We are going ahead with that. We will make sure in terms of schedule the auction will be conducted," Sibal said.
"I really welcome the judgement of the Supreme Court, especially the last point, that it is not for the court to lay down a method of allocation of natural resources," Sibal said.
Khurshid said the verdict will give the government important guidance as it moves forward and enable the Centre take forward its public policies.
In a word of caution, he also said that the chapter is "not closed" as curative petitions filed by affected companies were still pending in the Supreme Court.
He said the verdict will provide enough material for judges who go through the curative petitions.
The judgement, he said, does not mean that the government has the "freedom to act in the way we like. It has to be under the parameters of judicial review."
He said the verdict has further enforced the principle of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive.
In the coming days Khurshid, along with Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Sibal will make a detailed presentation before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the verdict after going through the detailed order.
CAG had indicted the government for accruing benefits by allocating natural resources on nomination basis. But, Sibal refrained from making any comment when asked if the judgement would provide the government a relief from all allegations.