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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in New Delhi will on Thursday pronounce its verdict in the Rs 1.76-lakh-crore 2G spectrum scam, deciding the fate of several top leaders of Indian industry and politics. Among the top India Inc officials facing charges of irregularity in the case are the Essar group’s Ruias, Unitech promoter Sanjay Chandra, DB Realty’s Shahid Balwa and some of the key executives of the Anil Ambani-led Reliance group. The court will also decide the future of former telecom minister A Raja, former telecom secretary Siddartha Behura, and Raja's former personal secretary R K Chandolia. While the CBI court is to decide on the fraud and conspiracy charges in the case, the Supreme Court had in February 2012 cancelled 122 telecom licences, including those of Loop Telecom, Swan Telecom and Unitech. Entities of top corporate groups, such as Tata Teleservices, Idea Cellular and Videocon Telecom had also lost lucrative wireless telephony licences following the court order. After minister A Raja decided in September 2008 that licences would be given on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, the number of telecom operators in the country reached 14. Of the eight companies whose licences were subsequently cancelled, only Idea Cellular seems to have survived the telecom sector storm. For most companies, cancellation of licences meant shutting shop and laying off thousands of employees.
The money these companies had borrowed for buying equipment, licences and spectrum are still causing stress on the books of lenders. The ‘first-come-first-served’ policy received severe criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), as the notional revenue loss to the government on account of this was pegged at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. In December 2010, the Supreme Court castigated Raja for bypassing and overruling the advice of the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, that the allocation of 2G spectrum be deferred by a few days. It also asked the Centre to consider setting up a special court to try the 2G spectrum scam case. In February 2011, Raja, Behura and Chandolia were arrested for their faulty policy causing a loss to the Indian government. While a number of India Inc leaders, including Chandra, Balwa, and the Reliance group’s Gautam Doshi were incarcerated in Tihar jail, some of them are currently out on bail. The fate of these top guns will be decided on Thursday. In its verdict in 2012, the Supreme Court had made it clear that all government resources, included the spectrum used by mobile phone companies to offer services, should be sold via the auction route in future.