The Supreme Court on Monday criticised the Centre’s decision of not putting on auction the entire 2G spectrum cancelled by its February verdict, accusing it of adopting a “casual” approach on the matter. “Withholding of even 0.1 per cent of spectrum will not be acceptable”, the court made it clear.
A Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and K S Radhakrishnan also refused to take on record an affidavit filed by a lower-ranking official.
“This affidavit cannot be accepted. Under-secretary of the government is not authorised to swear such affidavits since only an officer of secretary-level rank and above can take decisions in such matters. This is a deliberate attempt by the Department of Telecom since we have already rejected such affidavits in the past. This case is very serious and while the court is taking this matter with seriousness, such affidavits are being filed,” remarked the Bench, giving the Centre two days to file a fresh affidavit explaining why all the 2G spectrum was not put on auction.
The Bench also questioned why several aspects relating to the government’s decisions on keeping certain frequency bands reserved, non-availability of a frequency band etc had not been brought to its knowledge even though it was constantly monitoring the case.
The court was apprised that while 900 MHz-telecom spectrum was not available for auction, the entire block of 1800 MHz spectrum cancelled by the court earlier was not auctioned either, on the basis of a TRAI recommendation. It was contended that the government withheld more than 30 per cent of the available spectrum in 1800-MHz category since it auctioned only 136 MHz out of total 431 MHz.
“At no point of time the court was informed that auction was going to be only for 800 and 1800 MHz spectrum... government is very casual in dealing with this matter... We will have to consider withholding of spectrum and other related issues, especially in the light of the averment that even the entire 1800 MHz spectrum was not auctioned. We will say that withholding of even 0.1 per cent of spectrum will not be acceptable. They were required to auction the entire spectrum,” said the Bench.
It also observed that it was “unfair” on the part of the government’s officer to not bring it to the notice of the court that only a stipulated quantum of spectrum was being auctioned on November 12.
“We are going to examine whether there was compliance by the government with the February 2 verdict. If there appears to be a default, we will adopt proper recourse,” cautioned the court while fixing the matter for further hearing on November 26.
The auction of 2G mobile phone airwaves had received a tepid response from telecom companies, with only 55 per cent of the 176 blocks put on the block receiving bids. The value of the bids amounted to just Rs 9,200 crore — much less than the proceeds the government expected. The auction had become necessary after the Supreme Court’s February ruling cancelling 122 telecom licences issued in 2008 by then telecom minister A Raja.
The Bench also asked the Centre and CBI to consider suggestions given by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) over greater coordination between the three probe agencies — CBI, ED and IT department — so as to expedite the investigation into several aspects of the 2G scam. The court has asked their counsel to get necessary instructions and revert on the next date.
Indicating that the court might hear the 2G case on a day-to-day basis from January 2013, it also remarked that this case must be brought to a logical end.
The Bench heard CBI’s counsel K K Venugopal and petitioner’s advocate Prashant Bhushan briefly over the legal question if Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and his company should be chargesheeted for their alleged role in a case relating to the 2G spectrum allocation.
A plea was moved after the CBI submitted that there was a difference of opinion between their investigation and prosecution wings over filing a chargesheet and naming Mittal as an accused in the FIR and that the matter now rested with the Attorney General for his opinion.
The Bench said that the government could consult the AG for his opinion while making it clear: “When the court is monitoring the case, the final opinion will be of this court.”
The proceedings were concluded on Monday with Bhushan and Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy raising questions of propriety over some Cabinet ministers making objectionable remarks against the Supreme Court’s verdict following the auction. The duo sought restraint on the ministers for passing remarks on the constitutional body and expressed surprise that some of the ministers expressed “happiness” while talking to the media that the government did not get enough money. The Bench however did not respond.
Bhushan also submitted a note containing reasons as to why the auction was not successful and accused the government of deliberately ensuring the same. The court is likely to delve on this on Monday.