High court rebukes India’s leader
NEW DELHI — India’s Supreme Court issued a sharp and rare rebuke of the prime minister yesterday, demanding he explain why the government took a year to investigate a cellphone licensing scandal that cost the country billions of dollars.
The court said the government’s delayed response was an “extremely serious matter.’’
It was the first time in India’s democratic history that the court had taken the prime minister’s office to task, political analysts said.
The scandal centers around former Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja, who was forced to resign Sunday amid allegations his ministry sold second-generation, or 2G, cellular licenses at reduced rates to undeserving applicants.
On Tuesday, the state auditor issued a critical report saying the 2008 sales went against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wishes for a transparent bidding process and resulted in significant revenue losses.
A government inquiry reportedly estimated the losses to the treasury were about $39 billion.
The Supreme Court asked Singh’s office yesterday to explain why it took a year to address parliamentary demands that Raja be investigated.
India’s corruption watchdog, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has been probing the 2G pricing since October 2009.
Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium downplayed the court’s criticisms and said he would offer the government’s response today.
Corruption has long tainted Indian politics and drawn attention away from the country’s economic gains. Transparency International this year ranked the country 87th out of 178 on its Corruption Perceptions Index.