2G scam: Apex court pulls up Raja, issues notice on Tata’s plea (Roundup)

December 2nd, 2010 - 11:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS) The 2G spectrum scam featured prominently in the Supreme Court Thursday, with the court upbraiding former telecom minister A. Raja for being intemperate in his letter to the prime minister and issuing notice to the government on Tata group chairman Ratan Tata’s plea seeking a ban on the publication of transcripts of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s phone intercepts.

The court was also handed over the telephone intercepts of Radia’s conversations with media and politicians. Receiving the server, hard drive and call records, the bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly in a lighter vein said that it looked like a Christmas gift.

Even as former telecom minister A. Raja told the court that he walked in the footsteps of his predecessors in allocating spectrum to mobile companies, he was pulled up by the judges for not being “temperate” in his communication to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Hearing a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking apex court monitoring of the probe into the scam by the Central Bureau of Investigation, Justice Singhvi and Justice Ganguly pulled up Raja for being intemperate when his counsel referred to a letter written by Raja to the prime minister.

In the letter, Raja said that any change in the entry fee and pricing of the spectrum between the existing licence holders and new entrants would be “unfair, discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious” and against the principle of a level playing field.

Referring to his (Raja) command of the English language, the court asked Raja’s counsel T.R. Andhyarujina if the former minister was not showing disrespect to the prime minister.

“We don’t have any experience on how the government functions. With limited experience as chief justices of high courts we know we act responsibly,” the bench noted.

Responding to the court’s observations, Andhyarujina said Raja’s letter did not show any disrespect to the prime minister but was an answer to Manmohan Singh’s Nov 2, 2007, letter.

The minister again came in for censure when the court observed: “If Raja seeks the opinion of the law ministry, then he can’t skip that opinion and brush it aside as out of context.”

The court was referring to a communication by the Department of Telecommunications to the law ministry’s advice that the procedure to be followed in the allocation of spectrum be referred to a group of ministers. This advice was disregarded by Raja, saying it was “out of context”.

The hearing will resume Tuesday.

The apex court bench also issued notice to the central government on Tata’s petition, pressing for the enforcement of his right to privacy by restraining the media from publishing conversations which were strictly personal in nature.

The court said that since the petitioner was seeking a blanket ban on the publication of the transcripts, it would have to hear Outlook and Open magazines - which have printed parts of the transcripts - as they might be affected by such an injunction.

The court issued notice to the home ministry, the finance ministry, the director general of income tax department, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and directed them to submit their replies within 10 days. The next hearing is slated for Dec 13.

Tata’s reputation was of a great value not only to him but also to the commercial organisation under the banner of the Tata Group of Companies, the bench was told by his counsel Harish Salve.

The petition said that any dent in the commercial standing of the Tata Group’s companies, which are listed on the stock market, would hurt the interest of the investors who have stakes in these companies.

Salve told the apex court that his client was not challenging the right of the statutory agencies to intercept and record the telephonic conversation, but making those audio tapes public was certainly a matter of personal concern.

Referring to a recent judgment of the apex court, Salve said the right to privacy and the right to information were two competing constitutional rights and there had to be a balance between the two.

Salve stressed Tata was not seeking injunction against media. “In this country openness is must but it should not be allowed to sink into tabloid journalism,” he said.

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