|Monday, 05 September 2011 00:00|
If you thought Bill Clinton’s “it depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is” was the ultimate in verbal pyrotechnics, there’s something similar happening in the 2G scam case right now. The high voltage battle on what key terms might mean threatens to blow the case apart even before charges are framed by the court. In the absence of more than one money trail, this my-definition war, along with major policy flip-flops by the telecom regulator, is likely to play a vital role in which way the case goes—in an affidavit to the Supreme Court in March, Trai said it was not in favour of giving out licences in 2008 at 2001 prices, but in a letter to CBI in August, it said it was never in favour of hiking the entry fee! While law minister Salman Khurshid has said the CBI case cannot hinge on definitions given by his ministry, it is unlikely the courts will dismiss his ministry’s opinion easily.
As part of its case against telecom firms Loop and Swan, CBI had alleged the two firms were associates of Essar and Reliance Telecom, respectively, and cited funds-flows to prove this. When the CBI asked the corporate affairs ministry to define ‘associates’, the latter said there was no definition other than that in Accounting Standards 18—this was meant to account for related party transactions and stated that if a firm has 20% or more voting rights in another firm, that is an associate. When this went to the law ministry, it did one better and said associate companies required one to be a subsidiary of the other or for a common parent to have more than a 50% shareholding in both companies—by this definition, Max New York Life, for instance, is not an associate of New York Life.
A parallel battle of definitions is that relating to what rollout means. Around eight months ago, Trai had recommended that 74 of the Raja licences be cancelled since they had not rolled out their networks on time, a pre-condition of the licence. The telecom ministry has not accepted this recommendation as it has a different definition of what constitutes a rollout. Perhaps, as happened in a recent judgment on OBC eligibility marks, the courts will take the definitions given in various dictionaries and then take a call.