Top India court to oversee telecoms scandal probe

India’s top court said Thursday that it would oversee investigation into a major telecom scandal that cost the country billions and paralyzed proceedings in parliament for nearly four weeks.

The scandal forced the resignation of then-Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja. He has denied any wrongdoing.

It also tarnished the clean image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government. He was forced to defend himself in the Supreme Court over his handling of the allegations.

Opposition accuses Prime Minister Singh of dragging his heels while one of his government ministers presided over the scandal.

In the past week, the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s federal investigating agency, has raided and carried out searches at the offices of several companies and homes of nearly a dozen suspects, including politicians, retired government officials and lobbyists for the Indian industry.

The scandal centered on the 2008 sale of second-generation, or 2G, cellular licenses in a bewildering “first-come, first-served” process that netted India only 124 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) and awarded some licenses to ineligible participants who in turn sold their stakes at a high premium.

The state auditor general reported last month the government lost as much as $36 billion in potential revenue by not auctioning the licenses.

On Thursday, Justices G. S. Singhvi and A. K. Ganguly said they would monitor the progress in investigation by the CBI, Prashant Bhushan, an attorney, told reporters.

The judges also said the investigation into the sale of cellular licenses would cover a period of seven years, beginning 2001. This would cover allotment of licenses by the Singh government as well as by the previous Hindu nationalist-led government.

Singh’s government rejected the opposition demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee because the CBI already was looking into the scandal and the Supreme Court has been holding hearings on it.

An angry opposition blocked business in the two houses of Indian parliament until the four-week session ended early this week for a nearly two-month recess.

Associated Press