Just three days before Parliament’s winter session begins, the CBI provided ammunition to the treasury benches to train their guns on the principal opposition party, the BJP, by claiming that the exchequer suffered loss to the tune of Rs 508.22 crore due to a conspiracy hatched during BJP strongman, the late Pramod Mahajan’s, tenure as telecom minister.
“Had Pramod Mahajan been alive, we would have named him as an accused in the FIR registered in this regard,” said a CBI official on condition of anonymity. In the FIR filed on Saturday, the CBI named three companies — Bharti Cellular Ltd (now Bharti Airtel Ltd), Hutchinson Max Pvt Ltd (now Vodafone Essar Ltd) and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now Vodafone Essar Mobile Services Ltd) — as accused.
It also named former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh, former deputy director general of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) JR Gupta and a few unknown DoT
officials as accused.
Reacting to the FIR, BJP spokesperson and MP Prakash Javadekar said the CBI was being used as a tool by the UPA government to protect home minister P Chidambaram, whom it alleged of being equally complicit with former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G scam.
“This case has been filed to prevent a probe against then finance minister P Chidambaram. All decisions during the NDA rule were taken by the cabinet and did not favour any company,” Javadekar said.
“The BJP has to decide that it can’t have two yardsticks to judge the CBI,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said. “When it comes to the Haren Pandya case, they hail the CBI as the epitome of virtue but when it comes to the 2G scam, they dub the CBI as ‘Congress Bureau of Investigations’. Obviously, the CBI is going into the depth of the case and it should probe all issues.”
The probe agency conducted early-morning raids at the offices and residences of the accused and companies in Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon. “We have recovered documents that are being scrutinised at the moment,” a CBI official said.
The CBI has alleged that Ghosh and Gupta, “with the approval of the then minister of telecom (since expired), took an alleged hurried decision on January 31, 2002 to allocate additional spectrum beyond 6.2 megahertz (MHz) in violation of the report of a technical committee”.
Instead of charging 2% of gross revenue as fee “as applicable in normal prudence” for spectrum beyond 8 MHz, DoT charged only 1% of gross revenue as fee for additional spectrum.
“The decision was reversed in 2008 by the DoT during Raja’s tenure as telecom minister but by then the exchequer had suffered loss to the tune of Rs 508.22 crore,” the CBI official said.
Sources in the agency clarified that after allotting additional spectrum to private companies on these lines, other telecom operators were also allotted spectrum in a similar fashion but the conspiracy was hatched in the initial phase for the three companies that have been accused.
The CBI sources also alleged that Mahajan was instrumental in overruling the report of a technical committee in this regard. And the decision was taken “within a day” at his behest.
“We will also investigate whether there was any quid pro quo in this regard,” said an investigator. The two companies have denied any wrongdoing.
“We would like to categorically state that the entire spectrum allotted to us from time to time has been strictly as per the stated government policy. We are providing all details and correspondence to the authorities and shall provide complete support as needed in the matter,” a Bharti Airtel spokesperson said.
“There was a visit by CBI officials this morning at our office in Mumbai and Delhi seeking information related to the spectrum allocation to operators during 2001-02,” a Vodafone Essar spokesperson said.
“All our documents are in complete compliance with the governing laws and regulations. Vodafone India is completely cooperating with the officials and will provide them all the required details as part of their checks.”Airtel, Vodafone react on CBI raids | Have broken no laws, say Airtel, Vodafone