By Shivaji Sarkar
Even as 2018 dawns, the shadow of a scam, which a judge now says never was, will continue to be cast on the Indian politico-economy. So also in the dock is the most credible institution, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which propounded the theory of “presumptive loss” of staggering Rs 1.76 lakh crore, the bureaucracy, which could not give the proper advice and many more. At the same time, another question now arises on the cancellation of 122 telecom licenses by the Supreme Court.
The court has the powers to scrutinise, approve or reject government policies. But as of now, the 2G spectrum case is bound to travel back to the Supreme Court, and the curtain does not come down on the 2G drama.
The scam had heaped a severe financial cost not only on the government but many companies, the nation’s economy and politics. Many individuals suffered, it took crucial time of the judiciary and led to wastage of enormous public money on litigation. A critical question is: would this “non-issue” once again be an election issue?
In this entire process, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad perhaps stands correct on his advice to the government departments to avoid unnecessary litigation and wasteful expenditure. It happens mostly either because of avoidance of decision or arbitrary functioning at the bureaucratic level or an attitude to teach a lesson, mostly to junior officers or employees, who may have disagreed with their superior.
This is happening almost in all government or semi-government departments, armed and para-military, police forces, public sector enterprises and even innocuous organisations such as institute of mass communication or an organisation related to study of history, emanating often from the attitude of a pig-headed person and no superior official trying to take the corrective step. Thereafter, it flows into the portals of judiciary, which often tries to correct the course and ensure justice, but at a tremendous cost to the individuals and reputation of the organisations.
Possibly the stand taken by the trial court judge OP Saini points out to this bureaucratic mess at the level of the Ministry and prosecuting agencies — the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, which could not substantiate the “presumptive loss” theory or connect the supposed beneficiary or establish their familiarity with company officials with former telecom minister A Raja.
Saini’s comment is harsh but appropriate when he says that there is no proof of scam and in a stunning verdict had acquitted all accused, including the then minister, DMK leader Kanimozhi, former telecom secretary Sidhartha Behura, Raja’s erstwhile private secretary RK Chandolia, Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech MD Sanjay Chandra and three top executives of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (RADAG) — Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair, in the case.
The same day, December 21, 2017, the equity prices at the BSE of Unitech surged 19.91 per cent before closing at Rs. 7.92, 11.86 per cent higher, D B Realty closed higher by 19.89 per cent, Reliance Communications rose by 4 per cent, Sun TV Network 5.98 per cent before closing at Rs. 982. It is a pointer how the market purviews an action or correction.
It is also a fact that since the 2G, government’s pricing of utility services, train fares, metro fares, electricity, water, parking and bank charges have risen several fold as the basic principle of keeping such prices low was replaced by a policy of auction or profit to the government. Even NGT arbitrary decisions have thrown the nation out of gear. It has added to inflation, and government’s costs — fiscal deficit. It calls for a relook for re-establishing the concept of a Welfare State.
Nobody can deny that the 2G case happened because of one reason. The government policy or perception of allotting the spectrum was not clear or possibly since this was a new area no one had an inkling of how to do it. It is also true that nobody also tried to set a policy. It also raises doubts, as many have done recently, on the competence of the India’s iron frame, the top government officials. It does not exonerate the political class either, who have succumbed to such officials or swooned in the face of agitations by persons like Anna Hazare.
It is also true that since it was the beginning of introduction of spectrum, none then had taken into account that when 2G was introduced, the rest of the world was introducing 3G and was toying with the idea of 4G. The 2G was virtually on its way out. Sadly enough while deciding on spectrum price — presumptive valuation — even the CAG did not take this into consideration. If it had done the seven-year ordeal the nation witnessed and millions if not billions lost in litigation may possibly had not been there.
The nation now must take firm corrective steps for policy formulation. The Narendra Modi government should have the courage and an innovative mind. It should consider constituting an all-party Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and include as advisors some victims of 2G case, such as Behura and others, to suggest future decision-making process for similar situations.
There can be wrong policy decisions but it should not lead to adducing criminality or corruption to fix a rival. This can bring governance to a standstill. The policies also must harp on doing away with the colonial mindset. It has to specify that disagreement by a junior functionary is not indiscipline. There should be provisions for realising the cost plus 12 per cent interest from pig-headed officials, of whatever level, for forcing wasteful avoidable of litigation.
It should not be forgotten that such litigations, issuing of memo or threat of disciplinary actions vitiate the atmosphere of organisations, reduce productivity and mount severe financial and manpower cost on the government.
While accountability of the people sitting in the chair has to be fixed, it should also lay down procedures for not trusting in all kinds of lies, mischievous allegations and arbitrariness that these persons stoop down to harass and humiliate persons below their rank. These are easy tools for the corrupt heads of departments or organisations. This would be a way to check corruption that the government is determined to weed out.
The Saini judgment should be taken as a beginning for correcting official procedures. It should also call for reconsideration of revenue maximisation through auctions at high prices as it rejects the possibility of growth through lower tariffs, greater capital investment and focus on quality benefiting both the people, corporate and the government. — INFA