New Delhi, Sept. 27 -- The UPA government, staging a comeback through economic reforms after months of being on the back foot, got another boost after the Supreme Court said that auction was not the only method allowed in allocating natural resources. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been rocked by criticism that it handed out telecom spectrum and coal fields at an alleged loss of Rs. 3.6 lakh crore to private players instead of finding the highest bidders through an auction process, an act opposition parties said reeked of corruption.
A five-judge bench of the apex court led by Chief Justice S H Kapadia, in response to a query from the President, said that common good was the touchstone for any policy ruling, and that if that objective were met, any means adopted was in accordance with the Constitution.
"In our opinion, auction, despite being a more preferable method of alienation/allotment of natural resources, cannot be held to be a constitutional requirement," said the bench, emphasising that it could test the legality of allotment methods and strike down a decision in the case of any arbitrariness.
The government has always held that revenue maximisation cannot be the sole consideration while allocating natural resources. In the case of telecom spectrum - a controversy that sent former telecom minister A Raja to jail - the government's position was that an auction would have made call rates too expensive for poor people. In the case of coal allocations, a similar argument was made with respect to power, steel and cement prices.
This means that the government could use other options like first-come first-served, lottery and screening committees to allot resources, as long as the process is transparent and clearly spelt out.
"Today, it is clear that what we did was right, therefore, it is a relief ... it is comforting. Now our stand has been vindicated," said law minister Salman Khurshid.
BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad stuck to the party's guns, saying that the judgement could not be used to validate the position of the government, which, he said, had itself chosen to go for competitive bidding for coal blocks but "delayed it deliberately".
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.