New Delhi: With the entire opposition, some allies in the ruling coalition and second-rung leaders of the ruling Congress party rallying around for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to investigate the alleged corruption in the allotment of spectrum for second generation (2G) telecom services, the onus seems to be on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to break the deadlock.
An all-party meeting called to end the two-week-long logjam in Parliament failed on Monday as the Opposition did not agree to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)’s suggestion for attaching a multi-disciplinary probe with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is expected to examine the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the 2G case.
A confused Congress leadership, which has been holding several rounds of discussions, is considering various options including an early adjournment of the winter session of Parliament, to wriggle out of the present stalemate, said a senior party leader, who did not want to be identified. However, a large section of party leaders feel such a move would reflect “poorly” on the party.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition has been halting Parliament’s winter session that began on 9 November over demands for a JPC on the 2G scam. The government has countered by saying that there is no need for such a probe as separate investigations are on.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who represented the government in the all-party meeting—the second in the last one week—said he would get back to party leaders after consulting the Prime Minister.
The leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, said the Opposition rejected the government’s fresh suggestion for attaching teams of multiple agencies probing the scam to the PAC. “The entire Opposition was united on the demand for a JPC...We also told the government that if they want, the Opposition can end the deadlock,” Swaraj told reporters outside Parliament.
The Opposition’s agitation had forced former telecom minister A. Raja, prime accused in the 2G scam case, to quit. In another setback to the government, the Supreme Court last week criticised Singh for taking 16 months to respond to the allegations against Raja, a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a key ally of the UPA, with 18 members in the Lok Sabha.
Subramanian Swamy filed a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday ahead of a hearing on Tuesday. An affidavit had been filed in the court on behalf of the Prime Minister on Saturday explaining how the Prime Minister’s Office had dealt with Swamy’s complaint. Swamy said he was vindicated by the Prime Minister’s response, as it “details the sorry state of bureaucratic affairs in the nation’s highest seat of executive power.”
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Opposition parties received another moral victory when Trinamool Congress, a key UPA ally, joined the chorus and said it was the government’s responsibility to take steps to run Parliament smoothly. “The responsibility of the government is to ensure that the House functions. If the government takes a decision on JPC, we will support it,” Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said.
Although a section of Congress leaders, mainly second-rung leaders, maintain that agreeing to a JPC probe would not be a bad idea, the top leadership continues to be confused about a solution to the stalemate. According to a senior Congress leader, the party leadership was “worried” that a JPC probe would lead to “leaking” of information to the media, which would damage the party’s image ahead of the upcoming assembly elections. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam are scheduled to go for elections early next year.
“It’s a misconception that we could block the leakage of information by blocking a JPC. If the government shies away from a JPC on an issue that involves Rs 1.76 trillion, which constitutes almost 20% of India’s total budget, it will reflect very poorly on the government,” said the Congressman.
The Opposition protests have stalled the proceedings and blocked the passage of several Bills, including Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, Land Acquisition Bill and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2010. The government also has to get the second supplementary demands for grants, for an additional Rs 198.12 billion that was moved on 15 November, passed by Parliament. But it has the option of passing it by voice vote without a debate.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is investigating the 2G spectrum case, asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition seeking its monitoring of the investigation. In an affidavit, the agency explained its progress in the investigation, and set a deadline to complete its investigation by 31 March 2011.
K.K. Venugopal, who appeared on behalf of the CBI, argued that several facts were being disclosed during the hearing and were published by the media, which would prejudice the investigation. However, the bench comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and Ashok Kumar Ganguly, said: “The print and electronic media play a very, very important role in a democracy. They have a right to inform the public.”
The judges asked the media to be accurate in its reporting at the outset. “There has been a total distorted representation of the (earlier) order of this court. An attempt is being made to run down a high political office. We will not be mute spectators to this proceeding,” said Justice Singhvi. This is the second time the court has made the demand of the press.
The CBI’s affidavit disclosed that the Income Tax Department tapped the phone line of Niira Radia, a lobbyist who heads Vaishnavi Communications after obtaining the permission of the home ministry and submitted the same to the CBI in May. The tapes, which comprise 5,851 calls, form part of the evidence in the 2G spectrum investigation.
CBI submitted that it has analyzed about 3,500 of these calls. The agency also said it has 82,665 documents which it seized during raids that it conducted of the Department of Telecommunications and 17 offices of companies.