New Delhi: Fresh allegations of corruption relating to the issue of telecom licences were levelled by the Opposition against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in Parliament on Wednesday.
The Opposition repeatedly disrupted proceedings in both the Houses of Parliament, forcing the government to concede to discussing the matter after the passage of the Finance Bill, expected to be on Friday.
Giving assurance: Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee says the Centre will look into demands for a JPC on phone tapping and IPL. PTI
The members were reacting to a news report published in The Pioneer newspaper, which claimed that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had evidence of corruption in the issue of 2G licences in January 2008. 2G refers to the existing second-generation mobile services that are available in the country, providing primarily voice services and some data.
The Opposition charges come in the background of the controversies surrounding the Indian Premier League (IPL) that led to the resignation of minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and illegal tapping of phones of prominent politicians. The Opposition has been demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe on both issues. So far, the government has refused to comply.
Responding to the latest allegation, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is also the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, told Parliament: “On all these issues, we will have the opportunity of discussing with various political parties. Either the Prime Minister or I will come to the House. But this will be done after the Finance Bill is passed.” In the Rajya Sabha, the matter is expected to be taken up on Thursday.
Earlier, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) members in both Houses raised the telecom issue, demanding the dismissal of A. Raja, minister of telecommunications and information technology and a member of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Tamil Nadu’s ruling party. AIADMK is the main opposition party in the state.
The news report claimed that CBI had acquired “clinching evidence showing that a high-profile woman PR (public relation) lobbyist acted as power broker in the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam.”
The report maintained that the income-tax department had collected the records of telephonic conversations of Nira Radia, who runs several PR consultancies, with politicians and others, which point to a scam in the 2G spectrum allocation.
Mint could not independently verify the authenticity of the report. Radia declined comment.
However, in a press statement, the Central Board of Direct Taxes denied that the income-tax department had “recorded any telephone conversation of influential businessmen, politicians and advertising professionals as alleged (in the media report)”.
A senior Congress minister said Raja was ready with a statement to be made in Parliament. He declined to be named.
But leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, whose party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had earlier demanded a JPC into the phone tapping of senior politicians as reported by Outlook weekly, said: “The question is whether leaders of industry are involved in the allocation of portfolios by the Prime Minister. The allocation of 2G spectrum seems to be linked to this.”
Home minister P. Chidambaram on 26 April said that the government had “authorized no tapping or eavesdropping on any political leaders.”
Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury said outside Parliament: “Even Supreme Court has described phone tapping as unconstitutional. We want the government to respond on this issue in Parliament, as it is a serious matter.”
The Congress sought to dismiss the allegations. “The BJP measures everything with the standard they have set,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
Meanwhile, Mukherjee also assured the Lok Sabha that the government would consider the Opposition’s demands for a JPC into phone tapping as well as the controversy over IPL. This comes a day after the BJP gave a notice for moving a privilege motion against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for making a statement outside Parliament rejecting a JPC into the matters.
Shauvik Ghosh and PTI also contributed to this story.