2G scam hearing deferred till 5 December: Biggest corruption scandal in India's history explained
Seven years after the 2G spectrum scam came under the public spotlight, a special court will announce the date of verdict in three cases linked to, what the Time magazine called, is the biggest corruption scandal in India's history.
Seven years after the 2G spectrum scam came under the public spotlight, a special court will announce the date of verdict in three cases linked to, what the Time magazine called, the biggest corruption scandal in India's history.
The cases, which have former telecom minister A Raja, DMK Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi and several industrialists as prime accused, will be heard by special judge OP Saini.
Ahead of the hearing, we chronicle and demystify all that happened ever since the scam was unearthed in 2010.
What is the 2G scam all about?
On 10 November 2010, the Comprotoller and Auditor General of India, headed by Vinod Rai, submitted a report detailing the allocation of 2G spectrum to telecom companies.
2G spectrum is second generation telecommunication technology, which allows users to utilise a range of radio-waves to send SMS, email and internet services.
Rai claimed irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum had caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to the exchaquer.
“Sources in the know said that the CAG accused the Telecom Ministry for undervaluing 2G spectrum, sold to new players in 2008, and held that the allotment price was not realistic, “ The Economic Times quoted PTI as saying.
The report blamed Raja for taking arbitrary decision while allocating the spectrum.
Nine firms were issued licences, bundled with start-up of 2G spectrum, in January 2008 at Rs 1,658 crore for pan-India operations.
However, the CAG report said the price at which the spectrum was alloted in 2008 was based on 2001 prices, which was quite low and has resulted in a loss to the government exchequer.
What are the allegations?
Raja is accused of tweaking the rules and eligibility criteria for select companies several times in the run-up to auction. Not only that, but the telecom ministry also advanced the cut-off dates for giving the Letter of Intent (LoI).
According to CBI, this led to 2G spectrum being granted to "ineligible" companies like Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd and Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu) Ltd.
News18 reported that the telecom ministry issued licenses on a First Come First Served (FCFS) Policy but at 2001 prices, and not at 2008 prices. Officials at the ministry, led by then telecom secretary Sidharth Behura, allegedly shut counters to physically block few telecom companies from entering the fray.
The CAG report had already alleged that Raja acted against the advice of TRAI, Law Ministry, Finance Ministry in tweaking rules and regulations.
According to the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, Raja is accused to accepting bribes worth Rs 3,000 crores for advancing the cut-off date for 2G spectrum bidding from October to September 2007.
What is the Kalaignar TV angle?
Kalaignar TV is DMK official TV channel in Tamil Nadu, which began operations in late 2007. Raja is accused of getting Shahid Balwa’s Swan Telecom invest Rs 200 crores in the Kaliagnar TV Pvt Ltd, a company owned by Kanimozhi and Dayalu Ammal — wife of M Karunanidhi and another accused.
Calling it “money laundering”, the ED told the special court in 2015 that in lieu of the investment made in the channel, Swan Telecom got the licenses. Swan Telecom is accused by the ED to have been a “front company” of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group.
Kanimozhi, the daughter of DMK supremo Karunanidhi, is alleged to have been in touch with Raja in the run-up to the channel’s launch.
Other accused in the case
Unitech chief Sanjay Chandra and DB Realty founder Vinod Goenka were chargesheeted for cheating and conspiracy. Three senior executives of Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, Gautam Doshi, Hari Nair and Surendra Pipara. Behura, and Raja's Personal Secretary RK Chandolia.
Varying estimates of loss
According to the CBI, Raja’s interference in the bidding system led to the spectrum licenses being sold at “throw away” prices. According to the premier investigative agency, the decision to sell the licenses at 2001 prices led to the telecom ministry earning only Rs 40-50 thousand crores.
In CBI’s March 2011 chargesheet, the total loss was pegged at Rs 30,000 crores even though then director AP Singh claimed that the agency had not calculated the total loss.
The TRAI on the other hand, claimed that it was impossible to calculate the total loss to the exchequer as the auction was done on first come first serve basis.
The criminal case so far
While the case hit national headlines only 2010, murmurs of financial irregularities began in way back in 2009, when the Central Vigilance Commission directed CBI to investigate the matter.
In October 2009, the CBI filed a FIR against unknown persons in the Department of Telecom but the tardy probe was slammed by the Supreme Court.
Raja and Balwa were arrested and sent to Tihar Jail on 17 and 18 February 2011. On 14 March that year, the Delhi High Court set up a special court to deal exclusively with 2G cases.
The CBI filed two chargesheets in 2011: one naming Raja and other top corporate honchos, and another which named Kanimozhi and Dayalu Ammal. A third chargesheet was filed in December that year, which named some more corporate officials.
The trial in the case began in November 2011, but many of the accused including Balwa were let out on bail.
In October 2014, the special court framed charges in the case.
On 19 April, 2017, the court concluded the arguments in the case. Six months later, Special Judge Saini adjourned the date of announcing verdict to 7 November.
The three cases that will be heard on Tuesday pertains to alleged criminal conspiracy and money laundering by Raja, Kanimozhi and others. Such an offence entails punishment ranging from six months in jail to life imprisonment.
With inputs from agencies
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