The Central Bureau of Investigation Special Court's 1,500-page verdict in the 2G case acquitting all the accused, including former Telecom Minister A. Raja and Rajya Sabha MP M.K. Kanimozhi, has raised more questions than answers in the anti-corruption drive. At the center of the verdict lie grave issues of inefficiency, lack of transparency and accountability of stakeholders in the prosecution of the cases and the quality of the anti-corruption legal regime in India.
The quality of prosecution in the case has come in for sharp criticism in the verdict, with the CBI court saying that the prosecution initially started with great enthusiasm but totally deteriorated and became diffident towards the end – so much so that the prosecution became highly cautious and guarded in its attitude resulting in not being able to put across what it wanted to prove.
The CBI court has further observed that all pleadings on behalf of the prosecution appeared to have been signed off by the junior-most officer, making it amply clear that no senior officer on the prosecution side was willing to be responsible and answerable for what was being filed in the court.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the verdict mentions the complete lack of responsibility and direction of the Department of Telecom officers – examined during the prosecution process – who disowned the written official record and instead chose to rely on oral statements on most issues concerning the mess at the doorstep of the DoT in the manner in which UASL applications were handled and subsequently licenses granted.
With hard documentary evidence disowned and replaced by barely verifiable oral evidence by DoT officials on one side and the monumental inefficiency of the prosecution on the other, the accused don't seem to have faced much difficulty in dealing with open-ended assertions and allegations of "quid-pro-quo" in the transfer of Rs. 200 crore ($32 million) to Kalaiganar TV and assertions of high-level political corruption without sufficiently containing the same to any direct evidence, either oral or documentary.
The verdict mentions "Nil" cross examination of A. Raja by the prosecution, compelling the CBI court to believe that the prosecution had no worthwhile evidence against him to establish that he was involved in parking money in Kalaiganar TV. In the absence of any material linking Raja to the payment of Rs. 200 crores, the CBI court has concluded that the payment did not amount to illegal gratification for the official acts of Raja in the grant of UASL licenses and allocation of spectrum.
The prosecution's submissions relating to high-level political corruption without any direct evidence, oral or documentary, also made the CBI court turn to circumstantial evidence. However, with unwilling witnesses refusing to explain the circumstances springing from documentary evidence, the CBI court appears to have had no other choice but to conclude there was lack of sufficient and credible circumstantial evidence.
With such apathy, the CBI court found itself unimpressed and unmoved and refused to hold people guilty merely because the case was high-profile.
Clearly, in the eyes of the CBI court, while all the black dots may exist on the white board, the government officials in the witness box and the prosecution have failed to connect the dots in a way to establish criminality in the wrong doings by mapping the wrong doings with proper connecting evidence.
As India aspires to gallop ahead on the "ease to do business" index, "corruption" remains a major issue of concern.
In addition to the numerous initiatives to ensure zero tolerance to dishonesty and corruption by hitting on the head of black money, it is about time for an over-arching law against corruption covering the public as well as private sector, in addition to public servants.
While the merits of the 2G ruling will continue to be debated and challenged, the anti-corruption baby seems to have been thrown out along with the bathwater by the government officials and prosecution involved in the case. This is alarming and a cause of worry.
(Manoj Kumar is the Founder & Managing Partner of Hammurabi & Solomon. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)