Above: A BSNL office

The Delhi High Court bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar on August 31 (Thursday) gave the CBI time till October 16 to present the report of its preliminary investigation into the Rs 1,000 crore BSNL tower scam.

An organisation Telecom Watchdog had filed a PIL with the court, saying the CBI has been sitting on its probe for a year, especially when a preliminary investigation is not legally required to be conducted in such cases before an FIR is filed and full investigation is started.

When the court asked the CBI counsel why it had spent a year without much action and why it needed to conduct a preliminary inquiry at all, the CBI insisted that it does need a preliminary inquiry. The court then gave them time.

The matter pertains to an allegation brought by Telecom Watchdog on an alleged criminal conspiracy between senior officers of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and ZTE Telecom India Pvt Ltd, a Chinese contractor, for releasing payments for uninstalled equipment in violation of tender conditions.

Telecom Watchdog, in its complaint made to the CBI on March 11, 2016, disclosed how BSNL officials had connived with ZTE and forged the official records of BSNL by introducing a non-existent clause, so that payments of about Rs 1,000 crore could be released to ZTE before they were due. The petition further claims that BSNL officials, in conspiracy with ZTE, had fabricated official documents to release the money, resulting in loss to the exchequer.

On the last date of hearing notice was issued to the CBI.

On Thursday senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, for the petitioner said that the CBI filed a report that a preliminary enquiry is undergoing and it has been registered, against the allegations which were raised over the illegal payments made to the Chinese contractor by the BSNL.

The bench asked the counsel for the CBI: “One year has passed. What have you done?”

At that point the counsel for the petitioner cited a recent Supreme Court judgment which said that preliminary enquiry doesn’t need to be conducted in such types of cases. “They have registered a preliminary enquiry and have kept it pending for a year,” said Bhushan. “They have to register an FIR and conduct the investigation.

“It has been alleged that in October 2016 there was a contract to purchase telecom towers from the Chinese company by the BSNL,” said Bhushan. “The contract said that 90 percent of the payment was to have been made on satisfaction after installation and commissioning. But they prepared fabricated documents with the Chinese company and 21 officials have signed the
non-existing clause according to which 40 percent payment was released, amounting to Rs 1,000 crore. On the basis of this they should have to register an FIR according to the Lalita Kumari Judgement.”

CBI counsel Sanjeev Bhandari reiterated: “We need preliminary enquiry to be done before we proceed.”

The bench thereafter gave its order and the next date.

India Legal Bureau