New Delhi, Apr 20: On April 13, the Special CBI court judge O P Saini, where the 2G Spectrum trial is going on, had said that he wanted to see the face of all the accused, including former Telecom minister A Raja.
The small court hall in the Patiala House Courts Complex was bursting at the seams with people to hear the trial in a case that rocked the nation and the UPA government.
Proceedings began as Saini assumed the judge's seat and went about identifying the accused and their attorneys from among the bustling crowd before him.
"I want to see the faces of the accused. Are they here," the judge asked.
As names were called out, arms were raised, and four anxious faces made their way through the packed courtroom towards the judge's seat. Unitech's Chandra wasn't present when the trial began. Neither was special public prosecutor UU Lalit, who apologised to the court as soon as he arrived.
A clutch of celebrated lawyers and a posse of lesser known ones were pressed uncomfortably against a crowd of reporters, policemen, CBI officials and others, as the big question of whether more high-profile business executives will be sent to custody hung in the air, in a case that rocked the nation and the ruling government.
Unitech MD Sanjay Chandra, DB Realty MD Vinod Goenka and Reliance Telecom employees Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair stood to go to jail if the court rejected their bail applications and granted CBI's demand that the accused stay behind bars till the conclusion of the trial.
KTS Tulsi defended Chandra, Mukul Rohatgi defended Goenka and Ranjit Kumar appeared for the officials of Reliance Telecom.
As the court waited for some formalities of the trial to be completed, defence lawyers tried to appear confident, like sports teams ahead of a key match.
"Milord, all that we are only worried about is the bail amount, nothing else," one lawyer said. Saini continued reading, ignoring the remark, but the hint of a smile appeared on his face.
The court witnessed spirited arguments by some of India's brightest legal brains and courtroom performers. Rohatgi went all guns blazing from the word go, while Tulsi started gently in an aggrieved tone and build up into a crescendo of persuasion.
Lalit, who towered above all his "learned friends" with his imposing frame, adopted a style that interlaced cold legal nuance with passionate delivery.
The defence based their argument on the fact that since all those who have been summoned have co-operated with the investigating agencies so far, it was deemed unnecessary to arrest them during the investigation, and they are all present in person even though they had the option of appearing through a lawyer.
"There is no question of them absconding, they have appeared before the investigating agency more than a dozen times, they are businessmen with huge businesses and addresses, and they are all here today and they have extended full co-operation to the investigators," Rohatgi said.
He argued that it was incumbent on the prosecution to justify arrest, and not on the defendants to justify bail. "That is the process of the law. The prosecution is making the law to stand on its head," he said.
Tulsi, appearing for Unitech's Chandra, said there was no justification for an arrest because the investigating agencies have found no new evidence and if for one and a half years if custodial interrogation has not been required, it's unfathomable why it should be necessary now, he argued.
"The circumstances of the case have not changed. A public prosecutor has been appointed, but that is not relevant to the question of arrest," Tulsi said.
Lalit argued that the status of the defendants changed with the filing of the chargesheet, from suspects to accused. And they were not required for custodial interrogation when they were suspects, but that should have no bearing on the decision to disallow bail, he argued.
"The court must be satisfied that the person is entitled to be released on bail," Lalit said.
As the arguments dragged on, citing chapter and verse from myriad of precedents and loopholes of the law, the accused in the case who are already under custody, including former Etisalat DB MD Shahid Balwa and former Telecom minister A Raja, looked on from an elevated witness stand, surrounded by policemen.