New Delhi: The ruling coalition forced a key spending Bill through Parliament, which remained deadlocked on Wednesday over demands by the Opposition for a probe into one of several graft scandals to hit the government.
The Bill was passed by a voice vote, a procedure that allowed the government to get around a three-week stalemate between the ruling Congress party-led coalition and opposition parties.
The Opposition wants a joint inquiry into an alleged telecom licence scandal that may have cost India $39 billion in potential revenue loss, and triggered the sacking of telecom minister Andimuthu Raja.
Wednesday’s move to force the Bill through demonstrates a toughening of the government’s stance. It feels a wider parliamentary probe into corruption would be seen as weakness, and would give the opposition extra political ammunition.
The move may also signal government strategy to pass other bills still pending, including one to make land acquisition for industry easier, by voice voting during the rest of the current session that ends on 13 December.
“The government is sending out a message of toughness, that it would not retreat on this one,” said Amulya Ganguli, a New Delhi-based political columnist. “You could see more bills being pushed through in this fashion because the government has decided to get on with business.”
Parliamentary approval for the additional spending bill of about $9.8 billion ensures, among other things, interest payments on government debt and subsidies on food and fuel.
“It is unfortunate that I had to pass supplementary demands for grants in the din and dust of the House. It was necessary as time was running out,” Union finance mukherjee Pranab Mukherjee told reporters after the spending Bill was ratified.
A separate bribes-for-loans scandal, which implicates state and private lenders, as well as several sizeable companies, is also being investigated, in addition to other scams, including one linked to the Commonwealth Games.
Although there is little threat to the Congress party-led government, the scandals have eroded its political capital since an impressive election victory last year, and become a test of how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tackles corruption.
The deadlock in Parliament is also more of a concern for foreign investors than corruption, as it means longer-term financial reforms will be stalled, potentially hurting India’s rapid economic growth. Parliament was again disrupted on Wednesday.
The additional expenditure plan, the finance ministry’s second, is over and above spending sanctioned in the 2010-11 budget.
Top Official Removed
In a bid to ease the deadlock, the government said on Wednesday it was removing the head of main anti-corruption watchdog from overseeing investigations into the telecom scandal,.
Chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) P J Thomas’ impartiality had been questioned by the court as he was a former top telecom ministry bureaucrat and has a corruption charge outstanding against him.
“The CVC will recuse himself from the 2G (telecom) spectrum investigation,” solicitor general Gopal Subramanium told a two-judge Supreme Court bench dealing with the case.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court scolded the telecom ministry over allocation of licences, criticising it for “brushing aside” reservations raised by the prime minister’s office over the licences.
Despite the scandals, India remains a favoured investment destination, especially for businesses hit by weak US and European economies, and the market impact has largely been limited to specific sectors.