New Delhi: A political logjam that has stalled proceedings in Parliament since the winter session started on 9 November is expected to persist, with the government rejecting Opposition demands for a parliamentary probe of alleged corruption in the allocation of second generation (2G) mobile phone spectrum licences in 2008.
Opposition parties are demanding that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) be constituted to investigate the scandal, over which telecom minister A. Raja resigned this month. They also want a probe of suspected corruption in the organization of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and wrongdoing in the allotment of flats in a Mumbai housing tower to politicians, military figures and bureaucrats.
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The controversy has been fuelled by the Supreme Court’s demand last week that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) explain alleged inaction over a request by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy for sanction to prosecute Raja.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday appealed to opposition parties to allow Parliament to function. “There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that if any wrong thing has been done by anybody, he or she will be brought to book,” Singh said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
According to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the exchequer suffered a notional loss of Rs 1.76 trillion because of the allocation, rather than auction, of spectrum. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has to study the report.
Rejecting the demand for a JPC probe, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said the PAC was virtually a permanent JPC chaired by a member of the Opposition and it could look into the matter. Late on Sunday, the Congress core leadership met at the Prime Minister’s residence. The meeting was attended by party president Sonia Gandhi, Mukherjee, home minister P. Chidambaram and defence minister A.K. Antony.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian S.S. Ahluwalia said the PAC can only look into accounting aspects, which had been dealt with by the CAG.
“We are demanding (a) JPC to see beyond the accounting aspects to find out the scale of corruption and how the policy has been manipulated to favour beneficiaries,” he said.
Referring to allegations of corruption in the CWG, Mukherjee noted the government had already initiated investigations by various agencies. On the allotment of Mumbai flats meant for Kargil war widows to politicians, military officials and bureaucrats, Mukherjee said the Centre had nothing to do with it.
The BJP and Left parties blamed the ruling Congress for the disruption of parliamentary proceedings.
“Congress is responsible for non-functioning of Parliament since it has been adamant on its stand,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said. “We are making a perfectly justified demand of JPC in three scams...”
Basudev Acharya, a leader from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, said: “How can the government expect the Parliament to function normally? From the very first day, we have been demanding (a) JPC. Why has the government not agreed? Till the demand for (a) JPC is met, (the) House cannot function normally.”
In the first six days of the winter session, the Lok Sabha functioned for only 5 hours and 15 minutes out of 36 hours earmarked for legislative business, according to New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research.
On Monday, the Supreme Court, which has been critical of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for not following up its investigation of the spectrum case, will hear a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) that asks for the apex court to monitor the probe.
CPIL’s lawyer Prashant Bhushan has told the court that the CBI is yet to question Raja as well as other key individuals in the case. He said that according to telephone conversations tapped by the income-tax department and which have been placed as evidence before the court, many top public and private individuals were involved in the allotment of 2G spectrum.