New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh succumbed to opposition pressure for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation, a decision that may pose a political problem for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Singh, who asked the Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to proceed with the formation of the committee, said that his government made the compromise because the country “can ill afford a situation where Parliament is not allowed to function during the crucial budget session”.
Pointing out that the government had taken effective steps to “root out corruption, and has acted expeditiously and transparently”, he said: “We are a functioning democracy and must strive to resolve our differences in a spirit of accommodation, not confrontation.”
The government has made a mistake by agreeing to the opposition demand, said B.G. Verghese, political analyst and visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
“I do not think a JPC will serve any purpose. It will not work as various parties who get represented in it will try to politicize it,” he said. “They all want to play politics. Different kinds of investigations will create confusion only.”
The Left took strong exception to Singh’s reasoning for the JPC. “He (the Prime Minister) virtually justified that JPC is not required and the opposition demand was accepted to allow Parliament to function,” Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury told reporters. “If this wisdom had been displayed earlier, we would have saved the winter session” (that was washed out by protests over demand for a JPC probe).
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose to attack Singh during a debate on the motion of thanks to President Pratibha Patil’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament on Monday.
Criticizing the Prime Minister’s “silence” for three years over the 2G spectrum scam, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, said: “Mirror seems to be cracking. It is very difficult to join...”
While Congress parliamentarian P.C. Chacko, who moved the thanks motion in the Lok Sabha, defended Singh saying that he was the architect of India’s successful economic story, his party colleague Manish Tewari attacked the BJP for not taking action against its Karnataka leaders, who had been accused of corruption. “We can do more politics than they (BJP) have done, but we should do the politics for development of the country,” he said.
This development comes at a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has been investigating the 2G scam, has expanded the scope of its probe and sought financial details from Mauritius through letters rogatory. It suspects that some kickback money has been routed to the country under the guise of investments. The agency on Tuesday questioned Sadiq Batcha, promoter of Chennai-based realty firm Green House Promoters Pvt. Ltd, and Mahendra Nahata of Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd. Batcha is said to be a close aide of former telecom minister A. Raja, who is currently in jail for his alleged role in the scam.
CBI said it has questioned many companies during its investigation. “We are probing whether Batcha acted as front for Raja in receiving kickbacks. We had raided him earlier and seized many incriminating documents from him,” said a senior official, who declined to be named. “Batcha’s meteoric rise in the past few years has also put him under suspicion.”
The official said the agency has also found Batcha’s link with Shahid Balwa, promoter of Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd (now known as Etisalat DB Telecom India Pvt. Ltd). According to CBI, Balwa, who is in custody, colluded with Raja. Balwa has denied all the allegations.
Batcha could not be immediately reached for comment.
After questioning of Videocon group promoters Venugopal Dhoot and Rajkumar Dhoot, who is also a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament, on Monday, the agency questioned Nahata about Datacom Solutions Pvt. Ltd, which was awarded 21 licences during spectrum allocation in 2008.
But just before the licences were awarded, Nahata sold a 64% stake to the Videocon group and the company was re-named Videocon Telecommunications Ltd. “Nahata was questioned as part of ongoing investigations. We had sought certain clarifications,” said another official.
“We have given information to the CBI in the past and extended cooperation to them. We were not acting as a front for anyone,” Nahata said.
According to CBI, Nahata was questioned about allegations made in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the eligibility criteria of Datacom.
The agency has already questioned Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, and Prashant Ruia, chief executive officer of Essar Group.
PTI contributed to this story.