Supreme Court to monitor 2G spectrum scam probe

The CBI and ED have to submit progress report of the investigation by February 10, 2011.

Last Updated: Dec 16, 2010, 23:59 PM IST

New Delhi: Set to monitor the 2G spectrum scam probe, the Supreme Court on Thursday widened the investigation in the case by bringing in its ambit the telecom policy from
2001 to 2008 covering both the NDA and the UPA regimes.

A bench comprising justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly made it clear that the emphasis of the investigation would be to determine the loss of money to the public exchequer and said a progress report on the probe has to be filed by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate in a sealed cover on the next date of hearing on February 10, 2011.

However, the bench said there was no need for a special team to investigate the scam as the government has agreed for court-monitored investigation which is moving in the right direction and Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium and senior advocate KK Venugopal, appearing for CBI, have assured that there will be comprehensive investigation by the
two agencies (CBI and ED).

"We are giving directions that the CBI shall carry investigation based on the CVC report and consider the findings of CAG which has prima facie found that ineligible
entities were granted licences," it said.

The bench allowed the appeal filed by NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), against the Delhi High Court which had rejected the plea for CBI investigation into
the irregularities in the grant of licence for 2G spectrum.

"The High Court has committed serious error in dismissing the writ petition. Prima facie, there was sufficient material supported by documents to proceed on the allegation," the bench observed.

The bench said that the report of the Central Vigilance Commission and the findings of the CAG needed impartial investigation.

It said that how licences were granted to the ineligible operators has to be investigated and as to why TRAI did not take action has to be looked into.

The bench said that the CBI should consider the investigations done by the CVC and the findings of the CAG on the irregularities, which according to it, were blatant
violation of norms.

The bench further said that the investigation will also cover why roll out obligations were not fulfilled.

The bench asked the investigating agencies to probe the transfer of dual technology -- CDMA and GSM, saying while the notification for the dual technology was issued on October 19, 2007, one of the service provider was given the permission
a day earlier.

The investigation shall also cover huge loans by public sector banks and if DoT officials were signatory to the licence agreements, the bench said.

The bench directed the CBI and ED to carry out investigations without being influenced by any individual, their ranks, functionaries and agencies.

The bench asked the Directorate of Income Tax to hand over the transcripts of the tapped conversations carried out under the order of the Home Secretary to the CBI.

The court had reserved its judgement on December 8 after hearing arguments forwarded by CPIL, CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Department of Telecommunication and former
Telecom Minister A Raja who resigned from the cabinet in the wake of the scam.

In earlier hearings in the apex court, CVC PJ Thomas, whose appointment had come under a cloud, had offered to rescue himself from overseeing the CBI probe into 2G spectrum scam.

The refusal was prompted by SC`s posers about his ability to oversee the CBI probe into the 2G scam as he happened to be telecom secretary under A Raja, as well as in
view of a pending chargesheet against him in Kerala`s palmolein import scam.

The apex court, while hearing arguments earlier, had favoured widening the ambit of the probe to include spectrum allocation since 2001 under the NDA regime.

"The issue raised in the case is not limited to only Rs 1.76 lakh crore but has a much wider compass. We would not like to prejudice the probe. But what happened in 2001 needs to be looked into. It is for the CBI to investigate and find out," the bench had observed.

Raja`s counsel TR Andhyarujina, in his arguments, had maintained that his client had only been following up the 2001 policy initiated by his predecessors.

The court had also expressed surprise over public sector banks providing loans to the tune of Rs 10,000 crores to the 2G spectrum licensees on the basis of hypothecation of
their respective licenses.

"If it is true it is astonishing. It goes much far beyond what you are advancing," the bench had quipped as Prashant Bhushan, appearing for CPIL and quoting various
reports, told it about the disbursement of huge loans by various banks, including the State Bank of India to licensees.

Bhushan had told the bench that the SBI granted Rs 2,500 crore loan to Uninor, which is a joint venture between real estate major Unitech Ltd and Norway`s telecom giant
Telenor.

"A bank, which is the most premier bank of the country, the State Bank of India, functioning under the Act of Parliament, is lending Rs 10,000 crore. It is a matter of such
great public importance. It needs to be covered under the CBI investigation," the bench had observed while favouring "holistic investigation."

Senior counsel KK Venugopal, who appeared for the CBI, had supported the bench`s view saying that the CBI will register a separate case to probe the bank`s role in the
fraud.

"The investigation on this issue cannot be carried out in the pending case and a fresh FIR has to be registered," he had submitted.

The FIR in the telecom scam was registered by the CBI on October 21, 2009, against unnamed persons under various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The ED had also lodged the complaint under the Prevention of the Money Laundering Act and Foreign Exchange Management Act.

PTI