New Delhi, Sept. 27: The government today welcomed the Supreme Court's opinion that auctions cannot be said to be a constitutional requirement in the disposal of natural resources, and that revenue maximisation may not always be the best way to serve the public good.
Although the Centre's formal response merely stressed the "clarity" the court had brought into the policy-making process, the verdict has come not only as a huge relief to the scam-scarred government but also knocked down the logic behind the CAG's astronomical figures of presumptive revenue losses.
It was the CAG's figures of Rs 1.86 lakh crore and Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the coal-block and 2G spectrum cases that gave these controversies their profile.
Despite repeated questioning, telecom minister Kapil Sibal, who briefed the media, merely said: "We don't want to comment on those aspects or gloat over a court judgment. But the Supreme Court has laid down the law and it applies to all constitutional authorities."
Asked about the message that had gone out to the world because of the CAG's mind-boggling figures, he said: "The Supreme Court has now sent a message."
Sibal, finance minister P. Chidambaram and law minister Salman Khurshid are expected to study the court's opinions and make a presentation before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose personal image got dented because of a general belief that lakhs of crores were looted by this government.
The Centre and the Congress are bound to use the judgment as a shield against the Opposition's attacks. Khurshid has already said the verdict is a "vindication" of what the government has been saying.
"Today, it is clear that what we did was right, therefore it is a relief.... It is comforting," Khurshid said.
"Had the court said otherwise, we would have been roasted alive.... Now, would the Opposition go back on what they had said? Nobody listened to us but the people should now respect the court's verdict."
Sibal explained: "The government had said three things in the wake of the 2G verdict. One, policy-making is the exclusive domain of the government. What is the object, profit maximisation or the public good, is for the government to decide.
"Two, implementation of the policy, which is subject to constitutionality. Three, criminal culpability, whether someone has done something illegal or there is an element of quid pro quo, will attract consequences. The court has now confirmed this."
Saying the court had clarified that there was no constitutional bar on the means adopted by the government for the public good, Sibal said: "Nobody can tell the government, 'Do this or do that'. Auction or no auction."
He said even the courts cannot decide the methods of allocation of natural resources and argued that the executive can now take decisions more freely without the fear of intervention by another constitutional authority.
The Congress has a daunting task ahead as explaining these finer principles of constitutionality to the electorate can be far more difficult than convincing them of rampant loot. Congress leaders admit that the CAG's figures have got embedded in people's memories and the Opposition is unlikely to let them be erased in the near future.