11 September 2019
New Delhi: Initial evidence procured in the 2G scam was very crucial and it could help the CBI make a robust appeal challenging the trial court order acquitting the accused, said Vinod Rai, former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, while indicating that the CAG report on the spectrum allocation could have probably helped build a strong case.
In a free-wheeling interview with IANS, Rai talked about his new book "Rethinking Good Governance: Holding to Account India's Public Institutions", as well as his share of controversies, especially the CAG's 2010 report on the 2G spectrum auction. He vehemently defended the report, which concluded a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer.
In a charge sheet filed in April 2011, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pegged the loss at around Rs 30,000 crore. Later, the Supreme Court declared the spectrum allotment "unconstitutional and arbitrary", cancelling the 120 licences issued in 2008 under then Communications Minister A. Raja.
However, in 2017, the special CBI court acquitted all the accused in the 2G spectrum scam, including prime accused Raja and DMK leader K. Kanimozhi. The judgement said the CBI could not find any evidence against the accused in those seven years.
Explaining this conundrum, Rai said: "These are different agencies doing different kinds of work. The CBI does the investigation, where it gets witnesses and it can summon witnesses. It can look at bank records, whereas the CAG is majorly focused on auditing. The Supreme Court did not rely on the CAG report, as that report is in the Parliament and was being debated in the PAC (Public Accounts Committee)."
Rai, though, noted that the apex court did see problems in the allocation of the spectrum and then cancelled the licences after citing malafide.
However, he said that the "trial court judge said the quality of the evidence was miserable -- one (CBI) was looking at criminality and the other (CAG) was looking at irregularity".
In January 2008, the Department of Telecommunications issued 120 new licences for unified access services on the same day, and at a price which had been discovered in 2001. Issuance of 120 licences in just one day and at the 2001 price drew criticism from various sections, including the CAG in its report.
Senior Congress leaders, however, had then claimed that there were "zero losses", and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was also unwilling to contradict this claim, said that there was no auction, and hence no basis to calculate the loss. Rai contested this statement, stating there can be different opinions on this issue, and he had already expressed his opinion through the report.
The Prime Minister had said that he was not aware of the motive behind the new telecom companies, but Rai noted that real estate companies had entered into the telecom business and were able to secure licences.
Replying to a query on the sudden changes in the share-holding patterns of the companies in a bid to acquire telecom licences, Rai said that the CAG took this aspect into account and it contributed towards a model to arrive at a presumptive loss to the exchequer.
The former CAG also said that though Manmohan Singh -- who was also Rai's Professor at Delhi School of Economics while he was pursuing his masters' degree from the prestigious institute -- did not agree with him on the presumptive loss theory, but it did not lead to bad blood between the two. However, many Congress leaders blamed Rai for the party's electoral loss.
Asked what is the next step after the publication of the CAG report, Rai said on the issues which affect the public directly, especially social sector issues at rural level, "we sincerely believe that it is mandatory to sensitise public opinion".
Rai also said that the CAG is a 100 per cent autonomous body and "it is totally independent, it is completely apolitical and the officers are professionally good and can cut out all the cacophony. I am very proud of that department."
Also citing the CAG's major role in addressing issues connected with water pollution, Rai said: "We did a study in 2011 by involving NGOs on fresh water. Through this study, we brought out very good models of water conservation and water rejuvenation practices."
Referring to the rejuvenation of a lake in Nainital, he said: "Water management at local levels has to be managed. We have no option, as we are reaching such a critical level."