The 2G scam, which was variously estimated as running into lakhs of crores of rupees, shook the entire nation. Corruption seemed to be India’s biggest problem and became a hot election issue. It brought down a government that had been in power for a decade. The central figure in the controversy was A RAJA, the blue-eyed boy of DMK patriarch Karunanidhi, whose party was part of the UPA coalition. He spent a long time in judicial custody and the case is presently being heard in court. In an exclusive free-wheeling and candid interview with INDERJIT BADHWAR, RAMESH MENON and VISHWAS KUMAR, Raja breaks his silence about what the case meant and how he will be vindicated as he did nothing wrong. Dressed in a white, starched cotton shirt, he sits relaxed in his Gulmohar Park residence with not a furrow on his forehead. He is in a combative mood, wanting to take on the telecom powers that ganged up against him because he says he wanted to bust their monopoly.
You spent 15 months in Tihar Jail. Did it help you to introspect and see life from a different perspective? What was the experience like?
Perhaps it was a different experience. Having spent about 13 years as an MP and a cabinet minister, Tihar did offer a different perspective. Apart from the accompanying trauma, I read lots of books. As far as the charges against me were concerned, my conscience was very clear. Life in Tihar actually made me stronger to fight the case legally. I decided to use this negative opportunity to positively establish my achievements in the telecom sector.
Have you become more spiritual?
I am an atheist and never hesitate to say so. However, I do not have any problem with spirituality if it acts as a social force or as a self-searching exercise, provided it is not accompanied by irrational assumptions.
Being a lawyer, did you offer legal assistance to inmates?
Some inmates did discuss their cases with me. I found that many inmates had both factual and legal justifications for the crime they were alleged to have committed. Giving them legal advice gave me
You quit as minister and were sent to jail. How did you keep up your morale?
I had to keep myself physically and mentally fit. And because of that, I know 2G will be my strength.
What was your routine in Tihar? We are told you read a lot.
I was very busy dealing with the Himalayan charge-sheet that is over a lakh pages! Apart from my routine physical exercises and badminton, I spent most of my time with books. They were my friends and helped me to deal with my loneliness. Some of the books were: Off the Bench by VR Krishna Iyer; Breaking India by Rajiv Malhotra; Sources of Indian Tradition edited by Stephen Hay; India since 1950 by Christopher Jaferelot; A History of God by Karen Armstrong; Judicial Activism in India by SP Sathe; Hinduism and Law by Timothy Lubian & others and Law and Justice by Soli Sorabjee. I once again read my leader’s famous book, Nenjukku Neethi (Justice for Conscious), which always gives me strength to cross hurdles and injustice.
Are you planning to write about your days in jail?
I am writing a book to be published by Penguin, but it is not just about my days in jail. It will talk about why I was put there and how I was charged with corruption as I had allegedly abused power. The truth is that I waged a war against monopoly, cartelization and surreptitious exploitation of a natural source. I am not the only person who was charged for a crime I did not commit. I was charged because I stopped the telecom monopoly from committing fraud and crime. Truth will prevail. History will absolve me.
It is unusual for a politician when charged not to apply for bail even after one year. Why did you not ask for bail?
As the matter is sub-judice, I do intend to share something without prejudice to the proceedings of the court. On the basis of media reports, the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) sent a report to the CBI, which in turn, filed an FIR against unknown officials and others. It claimed a loss of Rs.22,000 crore to the exchequer on the ground of dilution of shares by M/s Swan and M/s Unitech. CAG gave its report to parliament, which calculated the presumptive exchequer loss to the tune of Rs.1.76 lakh crore on the basis of 3G auction price. Upon the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the CBI investigated the matter by treating the CVC and CAG report as prima facie evidence and filed the chargesheet which claimed that Rs.30,000 crore could have accrued to the exchequer on the basis of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR). However, the trial court, having heard the preliminary argument on the charges levelled, did not rely on any one of the theories of the CVC, CAG or the CBI. Instead, it went by the procedural aspect of abuse of official position and favors to some companies.
Initially, when the matter was heard by the Supreme Court, it made oral observations that the figure of Rs.1.76 lakh crore was “mindboggling” and I am told it even wanted to vet the chargesheet. That is unknown in criminal jurisprudence. The media and the opposition called it the biggest monumental scam ever heard. CAG works under Article 149 of the constitution as an auditor and its report is meant only for parliament, created under Article 79. The Apex Court exercised its power under Article 142 and observed that the CAG report has to be treated as a basis for a CBI investigation. The CBI filed an FIR in October 2009 based on reference from the CVC. Both these organizations are created under statutes, namely the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act and CVC Act respectively enacted by parliament.
When the charges were framed, the trial court did not rely on any figure for exchequer loss as mentioned in either the CVC or the CAG report. However, bail applications filed by other accused were earlier dismissed by respective courts referring to the enormity of the offence, i.e., exchequer loss. Constitutional bodies like CAG should uphold the constitution equally with others. Some provisions of the constitution are made on the basis of the presumption that the “King can do no wrong”. Unfortunately, there is no remedial provision when this presumption became predilections. There is a Saxon maxim: “High and Extraordinary Justice is Injustice.” So, the reason why I didn’t file for bail is simple—I was waiting for justice.
How did you feel when your own colleagues criticized you?
In parliament, one AIADMK MP called me Spectrum King. I stubbornly replied: ‘I am a proud Spectrum Raja as call rates were reduced by me and now people are using 3G on their mobiles, which I introduced.’
Did you feel let down by the prime minister and the finance minister?
I have stated that I was denied my rights because of their silence. Now they are paying the price.
In what way?
The investigation is wrong. CAG is wrong. The honorable Supreme Court clearly said the CAG report would be the basis of prosecution, but now the CBI admits it did not go by the CAG report. It conducted a so-called independent investigation. We cannot have it both ways. Prima facie, is the CAG report correct or not? The order passed by the Supreme Court must be honored. How can a constitutional authority not be obeyed by the CBI? What must be the riddle behind it?
Did you not yourself violate the norms?
I followed the law and the legacy as laid down by TRAI. I was just following the legacy laid down and that is my duty. Under our constitution, the business of government is allotted to ministers and then, the transaction of business rules is prescribed. For the Telecom Ministry, there is a regulator which has to decide certain issues, including the entry fee. This was discussed with the finance minister directly and by the exchange of letters.
Were you ready for an independent investigation?
Both I and my party wanted to have a JPC probe or even a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to be appointed to investigate 2G. But some people in the Congress turned down this demand and convinced their leaders.On this score, the parliament was stalled for 45 days. This was one of the reasons why the Supreme Court had to take a high moral ground. If there was a JPC, I would have had the opportunity to explain everything. I was ready for the JPC. They had an irrational phobia. I do not know why. I wanted to break the cartel. I disclosed how much spectrum was available. To maintain a level playing field, we did not assign a cost. But those who got it free earlier, wanted to stop new players. Established monopoly players like Bharti had a free run until 2007. There had never been an auction before and because I wanted a level playing field for new players, we did not go in for an auction. It was also the statutory recommendation of TRAI. So these established monopolies went running to the PM even though they already had got 10 megahertz free. The PM sent me a note with an unsigned annexure. Have you ever heard of such a thing? In the letter, he told me not to proceed without consulting him, so he trapped himself in legal issues. So Iwrote back telling him what I did. Now that is being produced as evidence in the court and that is why he is being called to depose by the Opposition. I still stand by every decision I took. Investigations by the ED and other agencies could find no evidence of bribes and there is no case of Disproportionate Assets against me.
Do you feel let down by anyone? Whom do you blame for your current plight?
Having emerged as a politician from the grassroots and having struggled, I did not take it in that way. I reiterate that I intended to revolutionize the telecom sector in terms of tariff and tele-density. I am happy that this objective was achieved despite my personal liberty and reputation suffering.As far as my personal liberty goes, I see it as the price I paid for the revolution which brought down the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) from Rs.350 to Rs.100 per month and boosted telephone connections from 300 million to 800 million within a couple of years. But I have to state with regret, that our institutions are working at cross-purposes.
Earlier, when I spoke to The Hindu, I said it’s an institutional aberration and it has to be resolved. My feelings remain the same. The entire 2G case rests upon the institutional difference between CAG, CVC, Planning Commission, Union cabinet, Telecom Commission, TRAI and others. These differences are fueled by cartels and magnified by the media and therefore, will not stand before the Rule of Law. When I personally advanced my arguments before the trial court, I challenged the CBI to get the statement of the PM, the FM and the law minister to corroborate their chargesheet where it has been mentioned that the advice of all three was ignored. They did not do that. The silence maintained by them backfired on them individually and institutionally. More importantly, being a student of the Dravidian school of thought and a true follower of my party, the DMK and my leader, Dr Kalaignar, I will not call it a plight but a challenge.
How do you cope with the stress?
I have been brought up within the Dravidian culture, where we are taughtto face hurdles and fight back. But my family was really affected. I told them that it will take time to prove that it is a bogus case and that it won’t stand scrutiny in a court of law.
Do you think the CBI/CAG has been unfair in conducting the investigation in the 2G case?
As a student of law, I respect institutions created under the constitution and by statutes. Institutions are more important than individuals. However, I have grievances about the manner in which the CBI/CAG carried out investigations. Simply put, investigations in the 2G case were done in a hasty and arbitrary manner without fully scrutinizing relevant documents and without weighing the legacy of the issue. It is evident from a simple question why the CBI in its chargesheet did not rely on the figure of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore as loss to
the exchequer. In turn, the trial court did not rely on the CBI theory that the exchequer had lost Rs.30,000 crore. What does it mean legally? During my argument, I submitted that CAG is a “legal illiterate” and acted with malice. Documents now coming in the public domain establish that CAG’s action seemed motivated by extraneous consideration.
Now, it has also been proved that Mr Vinod Rai was rewarded by the present government by accommodating him as an advisor in the Railway Ministry.
How did you feel about the judgment of the Supreme Court on cancellation of licenses issued during your tenure?
I did feel aggrieved by the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on the grounds of violation of natural justice as I was not heard before being condemned. However, the Court made it clear that the judgment should not influence the proceedings of the trial court and so I am bound to abide by it. Nevertheless, with due respect to the judiciary, my humble opinion is that the assessment of facts and interpretation of the law in this regard were not properly placed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court by either parties to the proceedings.
The New Telecom Policy, 1999, (NTP’99) is a document which created the revenue regime by giving up the spectrum/license auction on the ground of level-playing field to promote tele-density at an affordable cost.
It is extremely strange to hold that NTP’99 means spectrum auction. As a student of law, my reading on this issue is that unless and until NTP’99 is amended suitably or reversed, the 2G spectrum auction will not be legally sustainable, since this policy was designed by the cabinet and approved in parliament. More so, the
TRAI, a statutory regulatory body created to fulfill the objectives of NTP’99, has maintained consistently that 2G spectrum should not be auctioned. I am fully aware that the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court is the law of the land. Even then, NTP’99 has to be amended to implement the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order and in the absence of it, there will be a legal anomaly in the harmonious relationship between constitutional
What was your relationship with Sonia Gandhi?
Sonia was okay, but she was also completely misguided. After my release from jail, she incidentally met me in the parliament and said: “Rajaji, how are you?” Mr Shashi Tharoor was there at that time. A few minutes later, he told me: “The language used by Madam was to give you solace.”
Did you meet her after you got implicated?
No. I was a minister doing my duty. I do not get into personal relationships or exploit it for my advantage.
What do you feel about the case after your release on bail?
I am pleading for righteousness and justice. The Supreme Court ordered that the report of CAG, a constitutional authority, should be taken as a basis to investigate the case. But the CBI said that they are doing their own investigations and did not want to consider it as they knew it was wrong. They have committed contempt of court. My simple and honest question to the intellectual class of this country, which consists of lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, media persons and others
- Is it not an unfair, dubious and deliberate attempt to misguide the country by still relying on the `1.76 crore figure of exchequer loss when the figure of CAG has been discarded by both the CBI for investigation and by the Court for framing of the charge?
- Is it not a fit case to probe the veracity of the CAG report and personal integrity of CAG when its report is not endorsed by PAC, and there were internal disputes in CAG about the arrival of the figure?
- Despite CBI raids on all my family members and friends in more than 10 places, and enquiries by the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department, has any ill-gotten wealth been found with me?
- I started the telecom revolution and for that, got branded as a criminal.
- To my knowledge, this is the first time in judicial history that the CAG report was taken into criminal investigation, when otherwise it is meant only for parliament. Having taken the CAGreport as prima facie evidence, I wanted to call the CAG into the witness box.However, for reasons best known to the CBI, the investigating officer deposed that the CBI did not rely upon the CAG report for its investigation. It may not be fair to refer to the proceedings or the deposition made in the trial court when the case is pending. Yet, it has been my stand from day one, that I have been charged for “murder” but the person who was allegedly murdered by me is still alive. So I am pleading only for righteousness and justice.
There is an allegation that the finance ministry was not consultedbefore deciding the entry fees for new telecom players?
In our parliamentary democracy, a cabinet minister takes the oath under the constitution and is governed to work under the Allocation of Business Rules and Allocation of Transaction Rules. The Allocation Rules set out a ministry’s area of work, while Business Rules give the frame-work for carrying a ministry’s day-to-day activities. While some ministries have specific regulators like Telecom and Power to decide different set of issues including pricing, most do not have any such mechanism and depend on cabinet decisions. These regulatory bodies have been created by a parliamentary statute and as such have a solid legal status.
In case of the Telecom Ministry, the regulator is TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). At that time, it was headed by retired IAS and former telecom secretary Nripendra Misra (presently principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi). It was unanimously decided in the ministry to accept the recommendations of TRAI wherein the entry fee had to be kept as it is, without any change. However, the finance secretary (this ministry was headed by Congress leader P Chidambaram) wrote a letter to the telecom secretary (ministry
headed by me) as to why the ministry was not consulted before deciding the entry fees. And the same was replied suitably by the telecom secretary quoting TRAI recommendations and cabinet decisions of 2003.
Later, this letter of the finance secretary was held against me to allege that I did not consult the finance ministry. Did I not take an oath under the constitution? Am I a student who does not know anything? I followed the rule book, which says only to consult TRAI as far as the entry fee is concerned which was duly informed to the finance ministry.
Whom do you blame for your 15 months in jail?
Let me first explain the background of the then existing telecom business. There were groups of existing telecom players who already had first mover advantages, primarily because they got free spectrums. Among the biggest beneficiaries of the “free spectrum” policy was the country’s biggest telecom player, Bharti Airtel owned by Sunil Bharti Mittal. At that time, he also headed the most powerful telecom lobby, COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India). From 1999-2007, existing telecom companies got free spectrums which went up to 10 megahertz. However in 2007, COAI started opposing the entry of new telecom companies and getting free spectrums up to 4.4 megahertz to start their initial operation.COAI’s arguments were against TRAI’s recommendation, which said that there could be no level playing fields for new telecom players vis-à-vis existing players (Airtel and others) if new players were not given some free spectrums. So, in the interests of customers and the telecom department, I went by TRAI’s recommendations. In the meantime, I was receiving letters every day from different ministries asking for clarifications on my impending decision to bring fresh telecom players to break the monopoly of existing players. I was surprised that the letters from the PMO were nothing but representation from the COAI and Bharti Airtel (a kind of copy and paste job with a small note from the PMO). Their complaint to the PMO was simply forwarded to my office with a request to clarify, without any application of mind whether it deserved any response. But keeping in view my high regard for the PM, I patiently replied and answered all queries to his satisfaction. Under these circumstances, I have no hesitation in saying that existing telecom players led by
Sunil Mittal played a bigger role in defaming and leveling insinuations about wrongdoings in awarding new telecom licenses. But I have faith in the judiciary, more specifically in trial courts which took cognizance of the entirety of the case and I will prove my case and come out stronger.
What is your future plan?
Now, I am busy with my trial. You cannot come across any instance when a minister or a politician who has been charged for a corruption case with such media hype prefers to step into the witness box and offers himself for cross examination by the CBI. But I did it for 12 days. I never felt that I was trapped.
My book will detail my honest efforts in the telecom sector and the dubious attitude of various individuals and institutions will be correctly exposed through this book.
The first stage in the 2G scam trial, which involves former telecom minister A Raja and 16 others, has entered final hearing. CBI’s Special Judge OP Saini, who has been hearing the case since January 2011, will pronounce his final judgment and it may take 2-3 months. Incidentally, recording of evidence against the accused started on November 11, 2011.
WHAT IS 2G
2G means “Second-Generation Wireless Telephone Technology”. Telecom Minister A Raja issued 2G licenses in 2008. It was reported by the media that there were irregularities while awarding these licenses. These were confirmed when the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) after a special audit, alleged that the Telecom Ministry caused a loss to the public exchequer to the tune of Rs.1,76,379 crore ($38.27 billion).
What added fuel to these allegations was the leak of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s tapes from the Income Tax Department. Several PILs were filed, which led the Supreme Court to start monitoring the CBI probe. Later, on February 2, 2012, it cancelled all 122 licenses awarded during Raja’s tenure. The court also directed that a Special Court be set up to conduct day-to-day hearings in the case; OP Saini was made Special Judge for this case. For the last four years, the court has been conducting the trial, non-stop.
NAMES OF ACCUSED
A Raja; Kanimozhi (DMK chief Karunanidhi’s daughter ); former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura; Raja’s erstwhile private secretary RK Chandolia; Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka; Unitech Ltd MD Sanjay Chandra; three top executives of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG),Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair; directors of Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Pvt Ltd, Asif Balwa and Rajiv Agarwal; Kalaignar TV director Sharad Kumar, and Bollywood producer Karim Morani (left). Besides these 14, three telecom firms—Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd (STPL), Reliance Telecom Ltd and Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu) Ltd—are also facing trial in the case.
Cheap telecom licenses: Entry fee for spectrum licenses in 2008was pegged at 2001 prices. During the same period, the mobilesubscriber base had shot up from 4 million in 2001 to 350 million in 2008. No procedures followed: Rules were changed with impunity. Cut-off dates for spectrum license applications were advanced by a week; licenses were issued on a firstcome- first-served basis; no proper auction process was followed; no bids were invited. Raja allegedly ignored the advice of TRAI and the Law and Finance ministries. TRAI had recommended auctioning of spectrum at market rates.
The agency alleged thatthere was a loss of Rs.30,984crore to the exchequer in theallocation of 122 licenses for the 2G spectrum. This was the actual loss figure, as compared to CAG’s figure of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore, which was notional. The Special Judge examined 153 witnesses, while the accused called 29 witnesses in their defense. Among those whose statements were recorded were Reliance ADAG chairman Anil Ambani , his wife Tina and Radia.
RAJA CASE’S STATUS
The charges against him are criminal breach of trust by a public servant (Section 409 of the IPC), criminal conspiracy (Section 120-B), cheating (Section 420) and forgery (Sections 468 and 471). He has also been booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act for accepting illegal gratification. Raja was arrested by the CBI on February 2, 2011, and applied for bail on May 9, 2012. It was granted on May 15, 2012.
RAJA’S POLITICAL CAREER:
He was four-time DMK MP from Nilgirisin Tamil Nadu. He was a Union ministerof state for rural development (1999), health and family welfare (2003), Union minister for environment and forests (2004), and minister for communication and information technology (2007 and 2009).
Reliance Group (ADAG)
DB Realty and DB Etisalat (Swan Telecom)