The Supreme Court`s judgment delivered on 2nd February is a welcome step towards greater transparency in the transactional aspects of statecraft. However, its foray into policy matters remains a moot point and may have to be deliberated further. There can be no argument against zero tolerance in irregular grants of state assets. It has come as a huge embarrassment for a government which has been digging itself into a hole not only in the case of appointment of the CVC , but also in its unwillingness or inability (on account of coalition politics) to move swiftly and decisively to clarify and undo the 2G scam. It had to be pushed by the CAG and the courts.
The media turned the verdict into an event and the way it was covered throughout the day by news TV was a shocking exhibition of hype, sensation and over-blown hectoring. And, to be charitable, unwitting suppression or distortion of certain vital aspects of the verdict. Like the media, the Courts too, because of the very nature of relationship, have an adversarial role against the executive of the day. As it turned out, the verdict was indeed a censure of the executive and news TV was justified in highlighting the lapses and adverse observations.
Yet to go ballistic and indulge in overkill at the cost of other equally important aspects was abdication of its prime duty of informing and edifying the people about all important aspects in a language easily understood even by laymen.
News TV almost wittingly overlooked two vital aspects of the verdict which may lead to some problems later on. Firstly, there was no discussion on the indirect and suspected intrusion into the rights of the executive to formulate a policy. The point that “first come first serve” policy has inherent discriminatory implication is well made but what about the imposition of “auction”? In 1999, the then government decided that the expansion of telephony is more important than revenue and the spectrum would be allocated on one time fee and on revenue sharing basis. This policy indeed paid dividends till its implementation (and not the policy) got allegedly perverted by a government functionary. In future, will the government enjoy powers to decide on auction or any other policy, if it is considered desirable, to find other more transparent ways to allocate the assets it is custodian of? For example limited availability of land and even water may have to be met through allocations and if only “auction” is the way to allocate it, what will be the fate of those without sufficient means? Sooner or later, the SC will have to revisit the issue but our anchors, as usual, paid more attention to the political slugfest.
Secondly, the SC has all but found A. Raja guilty of misusing his authority to circumvent the policy to favour some companies at the cost of exchequer and of functioning in a wholly capricious and arbitrary manner. Be that as it may, there could not have been any loss to exchequer because of the policy but indeed some gain to him if he has, as alleged, given undue advantage to any entity on quid pro quo basis. The Supreme Court has dealt with only civil side of 2G scam whereas Raja is being tried in a special CBI court on criminal charges. None of the channels tried to elicit any explanation from legal luminaries as to what happens to Raja`s case now in a subordinate court when a superior court has already found him guilty of tampering with the government`s policy? Will it be possible for a lower court judge to ignore Supreme Court`s observations?
But news TV remained focused only on the “blow”, “jolt”, “hammering” and moral culpability” of the executive. It only reminded one of the near prescient observation of Justice Markanday Katju that the intellectual prowess and the analytical ability of the anchors is, at best, limited.
Television can be a force multiplier which can transmit hope as well as gloom and cynicism into every home. Therefore, News TV has the added responsibility to be careful about what it disseminates and not concentrate only on half- truths and parroting the motivated comments of political opposition.
All through the day, the opposition was demanding resignation of Prime Minister and government. The discourse changed a little in the late afternoon when Kapil Sibal declared that the government has welcomed the verdict and pointed out that the discredited “first come first serve” policy was inherited from the previous government and was adhered to only because emphasis was on expansion of mobile telephony and not maximization of revenue. He also stressed that verdict has provided clarity and direction for devising a fresh policy keeping in mind Supreme Court`s directives.
The anchors however treated the government`s views rather perfunctorily and these were all but ignored during the discussions in the studios with the same but rotating set of politicians, experts (including frustrated bureaucrats) and legal luminaries. As usual, they criticized in general terms the endemic corruption, lack of vision and probity. Studio discussions are designed these days to please the politician-hating middle class.
At CNN IBN, however, late in the night, a discussion did take up implications and ramifications of the cancellation of 122 licenses on telecom industry, commerce, politics and the users of mobile telephony.