India's Supreme Court will oversee an investigation into a telecom corruption scandal that has turned into a major political headache for the government. The government has been accused of dragging its feet on the investigation.
The Supreme Court has asked the federal investigative agency to give an update by February on the progress it makes in an ongoing probe into allegations that the telecommunication ministry sold telecom spectrum at below market prices in 2008.
The court also asked the Central Bureau of Investigation or CBI to name people suspected of corruption in the scandal, which auditors say could have caused losses of up to $39 billion to government revenues.
Investigators are probing whether kickbacks were involved in the granting of telecom licenses at rock-bottom prices to companies ineligible to apply for them. There are reports these licenses were later sold off to foreign firms for huge profits in the world's fastest growing mobile market.
The Supreme Court wants investigators to probe sale of all telecom licenses since 2001
India's Law Minister Veerappa Moily, hoped that the decision of the Supreme Court to monitor the probe by the CBI will satisfy the political opposition, which has been demanding a parliamentary probe.
"We have nothing to hide," said Moily. "That is why we wanted the Supreme Court to monitor the CBI investigation."
The Supreme Court's decision to oversee the inquiry came weeks after it made several critical observations about the government's handling of the investigation. The most embarrassing involved questions raised by the Court over why the prime minister delayed a decision for over a year on whether to investigate the former telecommunication minister for his role in the scandal. The minister has already resigned.
Political analysts say the scandal has tarnished the reputation of the government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and raised questions over its commitment to fight corruption.
But the spokesman of the ruling Congress Party, Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the Court-monitored investigation should satisfy skeptics.
"The resolve to go after corruption and misconduct is clear," said Singvi. "It is unequivocal, it is consistent, it is in the right direction, and with the Supreme Court monitoring it in the manner it is doing nobody needs to have the slightest doubt or apprehension."
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to monitor the probe. But the party says it stands firm in its demands for a cross party probe, and has threatened to block parliament when it meets in February if the government does not agree. Opposition parties did not allow parliament to function for a month when it met recently.