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Why Supreme Court judgment on telecom a blow to government
February, 06th 2012

However much Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal may seek to defend the government, the verdict on telecom licences by the Supreme Court has dealt a severe blow to the credibility of the government, particularly when the very edifice of the executive - that of framing and executing policies - has been lambasted.

The two cases before the courts pertaining to the award of licences for second generation (2G) telecom services and allocation of requisite spectrum, or airwaves, seek to address two contrasting issues, albeit on the same subject.

The one in the lower court seeks to ascertain whether or not former communications minister A. Raja misused his powers when in office and made personal gains from it. There is also the related issue of whether the 13 other people accused in the case connived with him.

But the matter before the Supreme Court was different: Whether the Department of Telecommunications - during the tenure of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - followed the due process in a true, fair and transparent manner in the award of these 122 licences.

Here the Supreme Court has ruled decisively: No. With regard to the other matter, a plea asking for its directions to conduct a probe on the role of Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was finance minister then, was left to the lower court. And the lower court Saturday said no probe was needed.

Thus far, the main defence presented by Minister Sibal is on these lines: The UPA government merely followed the policy set by the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. But that argument has a major flaw and raises a fundamental question: Can two wrongs make a right?

This is precisely what the Supreme Court has said, calling the action taken by the Department of Telecommunications, which functions under the communications minister, for grant of licences "arbitrary and unconstitutional".

The fact is: If a policy followed by a previous regime is faulty, it is for the incumbent government to set it right. There the head of the government cannot take recourse to the fact that one of his ministers said the policy was all right, to the extent of even preventing it from being changed.

The court also observed that the minister "did not bother" to consider a suggestion made by the prime minister. Now, if that act of disobeying that suggestion results in losses worth thousands of crores of rupees, or denies fair play to one set of players, who is to blame?

This fundamental duty of the head of government cannot change merely because of the compulsions of coalition politics. Here, one has started hearing some indigestible reasoning as well, like separating the Prime Minister's Office from the prime minister in fixing responsibility or culpability.

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