Sibal defends Raja again, says NDA’s policy to blame

Shortly lauding the ‘first come first served’ policy for lowering
telecom tariffs and spreading telecom to all classes, telecom
minister Kapil Sibal on Friday said the policy was the root of all evils in the spectrum controversy.
Sibal also defended his predecessor A Raja, in jail on charges of manipulating the ‘first come, first served’

Sibal said the “problem” lay with the ‘first come first served policy’
put in place by the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in
2003. “The [telecom] ministry has been maintaining that the it was
merely following the extent policies,” he said when asked about Raja’s
claim that he was merely following the policy and he had kept the
Prime Minister abreast of all developments.

“Minister Raja has always said that we are not deviating from the old
policies. But the problem was that the old policy itself was wrong,”
Sibal said at a press conference to reveal selective details of the
recent report submitted by former Supreme Court Judge Shivaraj Patil.
Asked why he defended the policy a week ago, he said he was not saying
that the principle of the policy was wrong, but only that the policy
was “procedurally” wrong, displaying his lawyer’s acumen for arguing
on technicalities.

However, according to the excerpts of the Patil report released by
Sibal on Friday, the ex-Judge found Raja guilty of manipulating the
‘first come, first served’ policy by arbitrarily choosing to advance
the ‘cut off’ date for receiving telecom applications from 1 October
2007 to 25 September 2007.

“The procedure formulated, whereby the processing of applications..
was restricted only to [those] received upto 25.09.2007.. is not
traceable to either powers vested in terms of any procedure laid out
or satisfies the requisites of law, in particular, the principles of
objectivity, fairness or transparency.,” the Judge says in his report,
according to excerpts released by Sibal.

Sibal quoted parts of the Judge’s report which were critical of the
BJP government in an effort to blunt opposition attack over the 2G
scam. Quoting from the report, Sibal said, “on 24.11.2003, the [NDA]
minister approved the formulation.. of “first come, first served” as
against the multi-stage bidding process [of 2001]. All this was
clearly in deviation of extant policies..”

He said if Raja is being blamed for conspiracy in awarding licenses,
the then telecom minister Arun Shourie must also take the blame for
replacing the auction policy with the ‘first come, first served’
policy. He said he is giving the findings, including that the first
come first served policy was first implemented by the NDA, to the
Central Bureau of Investigation. If CBI starts going after BJP
ministers, “people who are making the accusations [BJP] will have to
answer these questions,” he pointed out.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP spokesperson, dismissed Sibal’s threat. “Let us
have a joint parliamentary committee enquiry and we can clear it all
up,” said, adding: “let him set the CBI to have us arrested.”

Explaining the Patil report, Sibal also explained that since the
‘first come, first served’ policy was “procedurally wrong,” all
allocations of spectrum and licenses since 2001 was wrong. He,
however, did not say whether he will take action against all the
licensees who got their licenses since 2003. The Patil report also
zeroes in on individuals for “procedural” violations, but Sibal said
he cannot make the details public since the Judge did not hear out the
officials before submitting the report.

Announcing a new telecom policy of 2011, Sibal had last Saturday
praised the ‘first come first served’ policy — under which spectrum
was essentially given away free — for lowering telecom tariffs and
increasing telecom penetration. “There is healthy competition… and a
telecom penetration rate of 62%,” he had noted, pointing out that the
government felt it was time to start charging for spectrum from now