[The Asian Age 6-07-2002]

New Delhi, July 5: A, Delhi court on Friday convicted former communications minister Sukh Ram in a telecom scam case in which he was accused of causing a loss of about Rs. 1.68 crores by favouring a private firm while awarding a contract.

Besides the 75-year-old Sukh Ram, who now heads his own party, the Himachal Vikas Congress, Special Judge V.K. Jain also convicted fromer telecom department deputy direcotr Runu Ghosh and the managing direcotr of the Hyderabad-based firm Advance Radio Masts, P. Ramarao, for corruption and criminal conspiracy.

  Sentencing Sukh Ram to three years imprisonment, the court observed: "Being a minister in the Union Cabinet  a great deal of faith was reposed in him... But the chose to act otherwise and betrayed the trust reposed in him by the nation while giving such a high office to him. If the minister himself abuses his position as a public servant, it will be hardly possible for himto check similar abus by other public servants working under him." Sukh Ram, Runu Ghosh and P. Ramarao were present in the jam-packed court. The CBI had filed a chargesheet in March 1997 accusing Sukh Ram and Runu Ghosh of entering into a criminal conspiracy with Ramarao and abusing their official position as pbulic servants. It was alleged tht Sukh Ram, as the then telecom minister, had conspired with others and approved the bid of the Hyderabad-based private firm even though its rates were higher than that other bidders.

    The equipment, the prosecution alleged, was of much inferior quality and the higher prices approved for such equipment caused a loss of around Rs. 1.68crores to the exchequer. The accused were booked under Section 120(b) of the IPC and Section 12(2)(c) read with 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Runu Ghosh was also sentenced to two years rigorour imprisnment and a fine of Rs. 50,000 for the substantive offence under Section 13(2)(d). The sentence would run concurrently, the court said. The judge said the conviction and the sentence would remain in abeyance til Aughust 5 to enable them to file an appeal only if they deposited the fine with the court. Sukh Ram said he would appeal to the high court. "I have full faith in the judicial system," he said, adding that prima facie the case is in his favour and that his appeal may be allowed. Sukh Ram's counsel D.S. Patial said the former minister would file an appeal in the Delhi high court against his coviction. The accused were granted bail till the filing of appeal period and subject to their executing bail bonds of Rs. 1 lakh each. Runu Ghosh's counsel Satish Tamta said he would file the appeal in the high court before August 5.