The 2012 Supreme Court judgement cancelling 122 telecom licences, including denying the allocation of spectrum to eight companies, altered the telecom industry in India, ensuring that a handful of companies would carve up the market rather than the several dozen that would have survived, had even a third of the 122 licencees followed through on their successful applications . Given Comptroller & Auditor General Vinod Rai’s calculation of “presumptive” spectrum value, it was politically (and almost certainly legally) impossible for the Central government to auction spectrum at less than a steep price. As a consequence, the few telecom companies still left in India’s domestic market have much less funds to improve their services and infrastructure, with the consequence that telecom services in India are way below most other countries in standards. Broadband speeds are at sub-bullock cart level, a factor that the officials tasked last year to prepare a roadmap for the demonetisation of currency ought to have factored in before rushing ahead with such a hugely consequential measure. They also ignored such issues as the fact that a change in the size of currency notes would require a time-consuming recalibration of ATMs, or that the exclusion of cooperative banks from the currency exchange mechanism would severely hurt the rural sector, where such banks are found in far greater profusion than standard commercial banks. After the Supreme Court’s 2G verdict, both domestic as well as foreign investors realised that any policy would become final only after a lengthy legal process that might take a decade, if the parties concerned were lucky, and several decades if not. Of course, the judicial system in India, manned by some of the finest judges in the world, would still have the discretion to take a relook at past verdicts, no matter what the efflux of time. This means that any government policy would have a legal Damocles sword hanging permanently over its implementation.
When the Supreme Court cancelled the telecom licences given by Telecom Minister A. Raja, it was assumed by the public that evidence of misfeasance was discovered. Interestingly, it would appear from the labours of the CBI that Raja operated with complete autonomy within his ministry, as neither the then Finance Minister or Law Minister have figured in CBI or ED investigations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been found to function in a bubble independent of the PMO, and therefore ignorant of what was actually taken place within “his” government. Five years after the SC verdict, the CBI Special Court has come up with the finding that the CBI and the ED have failed to discover any misdeed by Raja or by anybody else in the 2G matter. Those whose intellectual faculties are below the elevated level of those at the top of the legal profession—whether such worthies be on the bench or the bar—are bemused as to how different the CBI court’s verdict seems from the SC’s, especially because the Supreme Court is the apex of the judicial structure. The 2G verdict, when juxtaposed with what seems a contrary SC judgement, has introduced a further layer of complexity in a practical understanding of the country’s legal system, to add to the many collectively making the processes of justice in India more ponderous and complex than any in other major democracies. It must be said, however, that the CBI judge has shown his independence from the agency by writing out a judgement that blames the CBI and the ED for extremely shoddy work, especially during the past few years, when it was expected that both would function with greater efficiency than before. Judge O.P. Saini has even pointed to lapses within the PMO, and in such detail as to make it mandatory for an investigation to get carried out as to why these occurred. Of course, it is well known that our agencies are masters at creating “false guilt” (through concocting and misrepresenting evidence against those they target) or “fake innocence”, in which they ignore facts that establish guilt and instead come up with a bag of alternative facts designed to protect the wrongdoer from prison. Television anchors routinely holler out that “the CBI must be brought in” despite even such examples of Keystone Cops-style defective—sorry, detective—work as the Aarushi murder case, thereby establishing that in India, hope springs eternal, while experience very quickly gets buried the way facts are in several investigations.
When the Supreme Court cancelled the telecom licences given by then Telecom Minister A. Raja, it was assumed by the public that evidence of misfeasance was discovered.
BJP spokespersons are distinguished by their command of the arcana of law, and the culling out of highly technical legalese to explain situations, especially political and policy setbacks. They are now pointing out that the CBI court is but a lowly link in the chain of justice in India, and that appeal after appeal will follow. However, so far as the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are concerned, it is unlikely that any other court judgement on the 2G matter will come before the elections, which means that the corruption plank the BJP used with such skill against the Congress Party in the 2014 polls has suddenly become much shakier. Narendra Modi has, for close to two decades been blessed by luck, including since taking over as PM, such as by the crash in world oil prices. Judging by recent events, it would appear that some of that good fortune is starting to migrate to Congress president Rahul Gandhi.