The court said that the inquiry must extend to the process followed in 2001 for awarding telecom licences, when the BJP-led NDA was in power. That's bound to be used in political combat by the government, which has faced unprecedented heat by the BJP and other Opposition parties over the alleged inception and execution of the scam.
A Raja was forced to resign as Telecom Minister last month, after the government's auditor pinned him down as the epicenter of India's largest-ever scam, worth Rs 1.76 lakh crore, according to the auditor's report. Raja allegedly colluded with bureaucrats and companies to virtually gift licences in 2008 at clearance prices to companies that he favoured. In his defence, Raja and the government have offered that he followed the procedures and policies introduced by his predecessors in the NDA in 2001.
The case in court is based on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Supreme Court said today that prima facie, the allegations in the PIL seem to have merit. Among them - that newcomers to the telecom sector were given loans worth 10,000 crores by Public Sector Banks though it was clear they were ineligible or were risky propositions, or both. The CBI has to examine whether telecom officials signed off on the loan applications for these companies - a clear violation of financial and governmental protocol.
The court also relied heavily on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) which indicted Raja and ruled that there appeared to be "serious irregularities in the grant of licences to 122 applicants, the majority of whom were ineligible." Some companies went on to indulge in "the blatant violation of terms and conditions (causing) a huge loss running into several thousand crores."
So the court has asked the CBI to investigate both the Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which recommends policy to the government.
The court wants to know why TRAI and DoT did not penalize companies who did not meet their end of the deal by ignoring their rollout obligations. Both TRAI and DoT have to explain why companies who resold their 2G licenses for massive profits were not investigated.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) will work closely with the CBI to study any foreign exchange violations, as also how the funding of companies that won licences. Both agencies have to submit a status report at the next hearing on February 11.
The 2G scam has proved to be a many-headed monster for the government. Raja has repeatedly said that the Prime Minister's Office was plugged in to the policies he followed and the decisions he took. The Supreme Court had questioned what appeared to be the silence and alleged inaction of the Prime Minister in deciding whether Raja should have been prosecuted while he was a minister. The court also suggested it would be inappropriate for the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) - PJ Thomas- as the country's top watchdog for corruption to monitor the 2G scam since he is accused of corruption in a case in Kerala, and because while he worked in the Telecom Ministry, he defended various decisions taken by Raja. That led to Thomas recusing himself from the inquiry but gifted the Opposition a chance to amplify its charge that the government is tolerant of corruption.
In the last week, the homes and offices of Raja and his associates have been raided by the CBI. Yesterday, the CBI raided close to 30 places in Tamil Nadu, targeting the homes of several people who are closest to Raja's party, the DMK. Most significantly, the CBI raided an NGO led by a Catholic Priest, Father Jegath Gasper, whose organization, Maiyam, enjoys the very public patronage of Kanimozhi, who is a Rajya Sabha MP and the daughter of DMK chief, M Karunanidhi.
After both sets of raids, the CBI said that it had recovered 'incriminating documents" - however, critics point out that the raids took place nearly a year after the CBI filed its FIR, and that means that it's unlikely that critical evidence can be recovered now.
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