With one of the judges recusing himself, the Supreme Court on Monday deferred the hearing till Thursday on the pleas of Bharti Cellular Ltd CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal and Essar Group promoter Ravi Ruia challenging the summons issued to them as accused in a graft case related to allocation of additional 2G spectrum in 2002.
Though the apex court posted the hearing for April 18, the CBI said the matter should be referred to another bench headed by justice G S Singhvi, which has been monitoring the development into the investigation into the 2G spectrum scam and cases arising out of its probe.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir on Monday said it was extending its order of postponing the hearing against them in the Special CBI court which will take up the matter on April 22.
However, the apex court said Mittal and Ruia will appear tomorrow as scheduled before the Special CBI court dealing with the 2G spectrum cases and would offer personal bond of assurance for their appearance in future.
"Since the matter is listed before the trial court tomorrow. The petitioners shall appear in person and give a personal bond for appearance," the bench said while asking the trial judge to hold the next hearing on April 22.
The apex court adjourned the hearing as Justice Vikramajit Sen opted to recuse himself.
"Justice Sen has problem in hearing this matter," Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who was heading the three-judge bench, said without assigning any reason.
The other judge with the CJI and Justice Sen was Justice A R Dave.
The CJI said since Justice Sen has opted himself out from hearing the matter, he along with Justice Dave can hear it.
"Two of us excluding justice Sen will hear the matter," said the CJI, who was told by CBI counsel and senior advocate K K Venugopal that the matter can be heard by a bench headed by justice G S Singhvi.
The bench headed by justice Singhvi had ordered the CBI probe into the allocation of 2G spectrum during the regime of A Raja as telecom minister and additional spectrum issued in 2002 during the NDA regime when late Pramod Mahajan was the telecom minister.
The apex court on April 8 had postponed the hearing till April 16 against Mittal and the same relief was granted to Ruia on April 10.
The CBI had told the apex court that investigation into the case has "found evidence against the CMD" (Mittal).
It had also told the bench that court has power under section 319 of the CrPC to proceed against other persons, not named as accused in the charge sheet.
CBI had said that in the case in hand, the probe by the "investigating officer had found evidence against the CMD".
While summoning Mittal, Asim Ghosh, then MD of Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd and Ruia, then a Director in Sterling Cellular Ltd, the special CBI court had said that they were "prima facie" in "control of affairs" of their companies, named in the charge sheet by CBI in the case.
The trial court had also summoned Ruia and Ghosh, whose names were not mentioned in the charge sheet.
Mittal had approached the apex court contending that criminal liability cannot be fastened on an individual for alleged acts of a firm.
CBI had filed the charge sheet on December 21 last year against former Telecom Secretary Shyamal Ghosh and three telecom firms - Bharti Cellular Ltd, Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd (now known as Vodafone India Ltd) and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now known as Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd). They all were also summoned for April 11 by the court.
The CBI, in its charge sheet, has named the three telecom companies as accused in the case in which the Department of Telecommunications had allocated additional spectrum which had allegedly resulted in a loss of Rs 846 crore (Rs 8.46 billion) to the exchequer.
Image: Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal