The Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday carried out searches at former telecom minister A Raja's residences in Delhi [ Images ] and Chennai besides carrying out raids at the premises of four telecom officials, including his personal secretary R K Chandolia, in connection with the multi-crore 2G spectrum.
A team of nearly 80 CBI sleuths began the operations in the wee hours of the day in Delhi and Chennai, at the residences of 47-year-old Raja and the other officials.
Raja was forced to resign as telecom minister on November 14 in the wake of the CAG's report that the rates at which 2G spectrum was allotted resulted in a possible loss to the exchequer to the tune of Rs 1.76 lakh crore.
Besides being accused of undervaluing 2G spectrum, Raja has also been held responsible for circumventing the rules to favour companies that did not meet the eligibility criteria for getting spectrum licences.
"It's a belated action. But it is better late than never. The next logical step should be to arrest Raja and interrogate him," AIADMK leader V Maitreyan said.
But Raja's party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supported him, saying, "He is our party member. We will stand by him".
"Let the CBI do its duty. Let them come out with their findings. We will see," party spokesperson T K S Elangovan said.
Raids were also carried out at the residences of former telecom secretary Siddarth Behura, Chandolia, Member of Telecom Commission K Sridhar and Deputy Director General in the Department of Telecom A K Srivastava, CBI sources said.
Agency sources said Raja was all set to be questioned by it. Raja has been maintaining that he was ready to be quizzed by the CBI any time.
The CBI action comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court coming down heavily on the agency on November 22 for failing to question Raja and the telecom secretary in connection with the scam, saying it was "beating around the bush".
The residence of Behura, who became telecom secretary on January 1, 2008, was also searched. He was also asked questions about the licensing procedures.
Behura told CBI that licenses were handed over on January 10, 2008 and that the decision had already been taken, a statement he made to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Tuesday as well.
The questioning of Raja comes within days of the CBI informing the Supreme Court that it had transcribed nearly 6,000 telephone calls involving corporate lobbyist Niira
Radia, Raja and others, during which a purported mention about the allocation of spectrum was also made.
Chandolia, who was sent back to his parent department -- Indian Economic Services --within days of new Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal [ Images ] taking charge, has been quizzed by the Enforcement Directorate on the issue of the first-come-first-serve basis for the allocation of spectrum in 2008 after the cut-off date for receiving applications was advanced at short notice by a week from October 1, 2007 to September 25.
Several companies complained that they had been unable to fulfil the application requirements because of the very short notice and had alleged that the preponement was clearly aimed at favouring the chosen few who had been intimated beforehand. Chandolia was personal secretary to Raja at the time of the controversial spectrum allocation in 2008.
Srivastava was heading the licensing division of the DoT when the licenses were issued. The CBI had registered a case on October 21, 2009 against unknown department of telecom officials and some companies for allegedly causing the loss of thousands of crores of rupees to the exchequer.
The CBI has earlier searched offices of Wireless Planning Cell, the department responsible for allocating spectrum and the office of deputy director general (Access Services) of the telecom ministry to probe the allegations of connivance of officials with private companies in allocation of spectrum.
It had also conducted searches in eight cities housing headquarters of various telecom firms in connection with its probe into the alleged scam. Raja quit just before the Winter Session of Parliament began, but it was not enough for an Opposition baying for the government's blood on the 2G scam.
The Opposition parties have been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the 2G scam which has led to virtual wash-out of this session. Wednesday was the 19th consecutive working day when both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were disrupted on the JPC demand, which the government has refused to accept.