Saturday, October 22, 2011

Happy that charges have been framed…..but now bail must be given to the 2G accused

Now that charges have been framed, there is no reason left for denying bail to the accused. It’s not as if these people have been proved guilty yet; there is no reason left any longer to keep them in jail. Since charges have been framed, one has to assume that most – if not all – of the investigative work has been completed by the CBI. Hence even the lame plea that the accused could influence the investigation ceases to exist. Given the Supreme Court’s own preference for “bail not jail”, it is time that ALL accused are given bail.

One has to keep in mind that the accused may not be guilty at all, though prima facie the CBI court has admitted the chargesheet. The reasoning for the SC’s preference for bail perhaps is that if the accused are proved “not guilty”, their incarceration would have been an act of injustice. To the extent that incarceration is required so as not to hinder investigation, the courts can deny bail. But after charges have been framed, bail must be granted. Yes, even now there is a possibility that the accused may influence the witnesses, but the mere fear of that happening cannot be the reason to jail up people who haven’t been proven guilty yet.

An interesting point in the framing of charges is that there are no charges against Raja for the policy of giving spectrum free. The charges relate to giving spectrum away to ineligible companies like Unitech, DB and Swan. This is a fair charge and I have always believed that the policy of giving spectrum free itself was good – in fact very good – but the execution of the policy appears to be riddled with corruption.

The link of the DMK with DB Realty appears to be the best established case. There appears to be a quid-pro-quo between Raja (representing DMK) and DB Realty (the beneficiary of the spectrum sale). However, the matter needs to be proved in court. Mere circumstantial evidence won’t be enough. On paper, DB has claimed that they had advanced a loan to Kalaignar TV – though everyone knows that there is no reason for them to have done so except as a quid-pro-quo. There is perhaps no other relationship between the two companies at all. The link between them has to be on account of Raja and the 2G spectrum sale.

The charges against Reliance Telecom appear to be reasonably strong too. I think the CBI has been able to prove that it was Reliance Telecom which was surreptitiously funding the setting up and application for licenses of Swan Telecom. Since Reliance Communications was already a license holder, the telecom policy disallowed it from applying for a second license. Apparently, there is evidence to prove that Reliance connived with Raja in setting up this maze of companies and indirectly control Swan. On paper, it would be the DB Realty group that would be running the telecom business – but in reality it would be Reliance. The charges still need to be proved of course.

The case against Unitech is unclear. Unitech is accused of being a beneficiary, but at least the papers do not report any evidence of Unitech having tried to bribe the DoT officials to secure their license. The charge against the company and its MD Sanjay Chandra is that they cheated the DoT (government) and induced them to give it the license and spectrum in spite of knowing that they were ineligible. Now prima facie, this looks a little crazy. Ineligible companies may apply for a bidding process; but they should have been rejected by the DoT. I am sure the DoT did reject many other ineligible companies. Unitech perhaps should not have been granted the license, but that should be a charge against the DoT. Where is there evidence that Unitech “induced” the DoT? Unlike in the DB Realty case, so far, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of a direct or indirect linkage between the DoT/Raja and Unitech. This business of “you benefitted, hence you must be guilty” won’t hold in court. An astute lawyer like Ram Jethmalani will fight this tooth and nail.

The charging of Raja, Chandolia and Behura are all related to granting licenses to ineligible companies. There is absolutely nothing in the chargesheet (at least from what appears in the papers) to suggest that the CBI has faulted the government’s policy on free spectrum. If that’s true, then it’s the right thing. Making policy is government’s absolute right. For example, if it decides to give coal mines for free on first come first serve basis, it can do so. This would not be a scam, though it could be challenged politically. But if it does this for pecuniary gains to some corrupt individuals, then its absolutely not ok. This differentiation is important. A classic example if of giving away diesel, kerosene and LPG at highly subsidized rates; this causes a huge loss (subsidy) to the government, but there is no scam here.

The CBI’s charge of the scam being worth Rs 30,000 odd crores will have to be proved. There have been so many estimates floating around – starting from the sensational and politically motivated figure of Rs 1.76 lacs by the CAG to the low figure of Rs 2645 crores put out by RP Singh, the Lead Auditor of the CAG itself. The TRAI has said the loss is zero. Many commentators on my earlier post have asked if it would make any difference if the scam amount was just Rs 2645 crores. Yes, it would make a difference – because if the scam amount was that small, it would automatically relate only to Raja and his bureaucrats. If the scam was of a much larger order, it would relate to the policy itself and involve all in the government. The political implications are vastly different.

Politically of course, what had to happen has happened. The court proceedings can only affect the political outcome one way. If the charges are proved, then the government will be in an even tighter corner. But if the charges are eventually dismissed, the government will hardly get any benefit of the acquittal. The opposition would have slammed the ruling party in the various elections that would have taken place before the judgment came out.

The real truth is that bail must be given to all accused, not just the five-six that are being talked about. The accused have not been proven guilty yet; how can they be kept in jail forever? If there is a strong doubt that some of them may influence witnesses, then an alternate mechanism must be found to protect the witnesses. Since the case may go on in the courts for many years; that cannot be the reason to keep the accused in jail for so many years….

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