On a day of charges and rebuttals, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal was rebuked by the Supreme Court Friday for his remarks that the official auditor was ”utterly erroneous” in assessing the loss on award of second generation (2G) telecom spectrum at Rs.1.76 lakh crore, while ordering an unbiased probe.
Soon after, parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi, who is examining the report, also came down heavily on the minister and wondered if the remarks were made with the express consent of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But Sibal, himself a noted lawyer and a senior member of the Bar Council of India, said he had committed no impropriety and that he understood his duties and responsibilities as a minister, counsel and a citizen of the country.
“It is unfortunate. The minister should behave with a sense of responsibility,” said an apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly, directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to proceed with the probe without bias.
“The CBI is conducting an investigation into what has come to be known as 2G scam. The CBI is expected to carry out investigation without being influenced by any statement issued by anyone in the media or TV,” the bench added.
“We take it the CBI should not be influenced by anyone. The investigations are being carried under its supervision, and any observation from anyone including the minister should not influence the course of investigation”.
The court’s directions came in response to a plea by top Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy, seeking to draw its attention to a press conference where Sibal had “ridiculed” the methodology of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to calcute the loss in the spectrum allocation.
Joshi also joined the debate later and said the minister’s remarks were not only improper but also raised doubts over the independent and unbiased working of CAG and posed a grave threat to parliamentary democracy.
“Can a minister, particularly the one holding the charge of a ministry, caste aspersions on a CAG report after it’s been tabled? This will lead people to loose all faith in the transparency and accoutability of financial transactions of the government,” he said.
In a hurriedly called press conference later, Sibal said he welcomed and honoured the order of the Supreme Court — but took exception to the fact that the auditor’s report was “leaked” to the media, giving the government no chance to study it in detail.
“The government also tried to persuade the opposition to have a debate in parliament but this, too, was not allowed. The result was that the government was in a very peculiar position,” the minister said.
“I am also pained to see an attempt has been made to suggest that I tried to interfere in any process. We have greatest respect for all constitutional authorities, and not just the CAG,” Sibal said, sounding hurt at the turn of events.
“We should put the matter to rest.”
The apex court had earlier issued notices to the government and 11 telecom companies on Swamy’s application, asking why their licenses should not be anulled for not complying with the conditions, including their time-bound roll out of service obligations.
The companies that have been issued notices are: Etisalat, S-Tel, Uninor, Loop Telecom, Videocon, Allianz Infra, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, Dishnet Wireless and Vodafone-Essar.
The bench had also sought the response from the department of telecom and the companies by Feb 1. It had also impleaded the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as a respondent in the petition.