NEW DELHI: In a development that focuses on the 'gate-keeping role' of Prime Minister Manmohan and then finance minister P Chidambaram in the implementation of the 2G spectrum allocation policy, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked why no step was taken to prevent irregularities in November 2007.
A bench of Justices GS Singhvi and HL Dattu said it had been resisting temptation to ask this question all along, but it was clear from CBI's 2G scam chargesheet that the "head of the government and the finance minister were aware" of the allegations about irregularity in the allocation of spectrum and had favoured the auction route.
"It is not that the government was not aware of things. You could have avoided the entire exercise by just taking one decision. It was felt by the government. The spectrum allocations were done much later than the letter of intent issued on January 10, 2008," it said.
The correspondence between A Raja and the Prime Minister, particularly letters dated November 2, 2007, and 26 December, 2007, show that Raja had informed Singh about his department's decision to reject the method of auction as well as revision of entry fee. "What prevented the government from taking this one decision? From September and October 2007, complaints started flowing about the alleged irregularity in spectrum allocation. The CVC also wrote about it.
It (the 2G scam) could have been put to an end and saved a lot of time of various institutions concerned," the bench said. To this, Additional Solicitor-General Haren Raval said what other authorities could have done or not done will not lessen the gravity of the crime of the accused, who were responsible for the allocation of letters of intent on January 10, 2008.
"But the gravity of the crime would have been substantially reduced if not completely prevented," the bench retorted. Between May 2005 and January 2008, the Ministry of Finance had consistently suggested that entry fee should be revised and that auction methodology should be adopted. The prime ministerial establishment will have a lot of explaining to do as the decision of selling spectrum at Rs 1,650 crore was ratified at a meeting chaired by the prime minister.
This meeting was attended by Chidambaram, Raja, secretaries of finance and DoT as well as officials of PMO. Those in the government who assert that Chidambaram cannot be made the fall guy say that the in a note prepared for the meeting of the full Telecom Commission on November 11, 2008, the Ministry of Finance had asked the commission to suggest "suitable mechanism for updating the entry fee of Rs 1,650 fixed in 2003".