Telecom scandal paralyzes Parliament session

Telecom scandal paralyzes Parliament session

New Delhi: Parliament ended its paralyzed winter session Monday after four weeks that were largely devoid of work but filled with raucous Opposition’s demands for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum allocation scandal that cost the country billions.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has rejected the Opposition’s demand because the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) already is looking into the scandal and the Supreme Court has been holding hearings on it.

Each sitting, noisy opposition lawmakers spilled onto the floor of Parliament, chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the JPC be formed to investigate. The Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar then adjourned proceedings until the next day, hoping for a resolution.

The furore centered on the 2008 sale of second-generation, or 2G, cellular licenses in a bewildering “first-come, first-served" process that netted India only Rs12,400 crore ($2.7 billion) and awarded some license to ineligible participants who in turn sold their stakes at a high premium. The state auditor general CAG reported last month the government that lost as much as $36 billion in potential revenue by not auctioning the licenses.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leader was unapologetic Monday for the impasse.

Sometimes blocking legislative action “also yields results," Lal Krishna Advani said. He apparently was referring to the fact that even members of the Singh government have backed the Opposition’s demand, in an embarrassment for the Prime Minister.

Legislation that Parliament didn’t address before its two-month recess involved issues such as banking, prisoners, teaching, a raging Maoist insurgency and sexual harassment. Only crucial spending bills were approved, but by voice vote rather than full debate.

The Opposition wants the joint parliamentary committee to investigate because it would have the power to call Cabinet members to testify, and opposition lawmakers say they don’t trust the government to conduct a proper investigation of its own bungled licensing process.

Singh refused to budge, saying such a committee can do nothing more than the existing mechanisms.

“I am worried about the future of the parliamentary system in the country. I hope reason will prevail," he told reporters over the weekend.

The scandal already has forced the resignation of then-telecom minister Andimuthu Raja. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court has been holding hearings on what went wrong and is expected to rule within weeks.