2G: How Long Will The Courts Keep Giving ‘Honest’ Manmohan Singh A Free Pass?

by R Jagannathan - Dec 22, 2017 05:32 PM +05:30 IST
2G: How Long Will The Courts Keep Giving ‘Honest’ Manmohan Singh A Free Pass?Manmohan Singh. (Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • So now the courts know how exactly Manmohan Singh would have decided if his officials had explained the matter to him properly. And Judge Saini thinks Singh would have stopped Raja if only his officials had not left out the key points in Raja’s letters to the PMO.

    How long will the courts be treating Manmohan Singh with kid gloves?

It is interesting how often the judiciary is willing to give “honest” Manmohan Singh the benefit of the doubt.

In the recent 21 December 2G verdict of Special Court Judge O P Saini, in which everyone was surprisingly acquitted, the judgement blamed PMO officials for keeping Manmohan Singh in the dark on a missive sent by A Raja indicating how he intended to make the licence allotments.

In a letter dated 2 November 2007, notes the judgement, Raja had informed the PMO about processing a large number of applications against the limited availability of 2G spectrum, and that auction had not been recommended either by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Telecom Commission. This clearly indicated that no auction was planned, despite the PM’s stated position on this.

In yet another letter dated 26 December 2007, just a fortnight before the licence allotments were to be made, Raja talked about his discussions with the External Affairs Minister and the Solicitor General of India. He explained that there would be three stages to the issue of licences – issue of a letter of intent, followed by the issue of a licence and later the grant of spectrum (or wireless licence). (All quotes from this NDTV report)

The prosecution said that this meant the PM knew about what Raja was planning to do, but Judge Saini rejected this argument. He noted in his judgement that “Pulok Chatterjee, in consultation with (then Principal Secretary) T K A Nair… had suppressed the most relevant and controversial part of the letter of Raja from the then Prime Minister.”

The 26 December letter, said the judgement, was vetted by Pulok Chatterjee – Sonia Gandhi’s man in the PMO – on 31 December and marked to Nair, who signed it on 7 January and marked it to Manmohan Singh.

Judge Saini says that this note contained only a truncated version of Raja’s notes, and concealed the “most important and controversial issue of new licences. Moreover, the note suffered from the vice of excessive length and technical jargon. It is lengthier than the letter of Raja. The Prime Minister is a busy executive. Wherefrom would he find time to read such lengthy notes?”

This is unusual logic. If the PM, who was himself a former bureaucrat for much of his official life, is incapable of reading lengthy notes or jargon on an issue he cared about (spectrum pricing), can one blame the officials for this?

On the other hand, blaming the officials means they did so in a matter that impacted an executive decision, and can well be held guilty of misguiding the PM. If this is what they did, should they not be prosecuted for deliberately hiding something from the PM? And if they did indeed hide something from Singh, what does this say about the officials’ motivations? Why would any official do this unless he was in cahoots with either Raja, or someone else they were beholden to? Is the judgment hinting at a Sonia hand in hiding things from Manmohan Singh?

Also, is it fair to give the PM a clean chit by claiming that his officials may have misled him?

This is not the first time the judiciary has treated Manmohan Singh with kid gloves. In a 2012 judgment of the Supreme Court, where the court laid down the law on how long the PMO can take to decide on sanctions for the prosecution of ministers, Singh again got a free pass. The case pertained to Subramanian Swamy’s request to prosecute A Raja, a petition on which Manmohan Singh failed to decide for more than a year.

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta noted in The Indian Express at that time, the Supreme Court exonerated Singh of any doubtful intent, noting: “Unfortunately, those who were expected to give proper advice to Respondent No 1 (the PM) and place the full facts and legal position before him failed to do so. We have no doubt that if Respondent No 1 had been apprised of the true factual and legal position regarding the representation made by the appellant (Subramanian Swamy), he would surely have taken appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for a period of more than one year.”

So now the courts know how exactly Manmohan Singh would have decided if his officials had explained the matter to him properly. And Judge Saini thinks Singh would have stopped Raja if only his officials had not left out the key points in Raja’s letters to the PMO.

How long will the courts be giving Manmohan Singh a free pass?

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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