Seeking to deflect the strong opposition attack over the delay in ordering a probe into the VVIP chopper scandal,the UPA government Wednesday moved swiftly to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the deal and secured the approval of the Rajya Sabha for the panel.
The move,however,was not supported by opposition parties led by the BJP,and they walked out of the House in protest,triggering a fresh confrontation. BJP sources said the party was unlikely to participate in the JPC as it was not happy with the way the JPC was probing the 2G scam.
The panel can be constituted only after the Lok Sabha approves the motion as well.
This will hardly be a JPC. It will be a CWC (Congress Working Committee), Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said.
While the SP and BSP supported the JPC,the CPM did a series of flip-flops. During the discussion in the House,the party said a JPC was not needed as it will be a waste of time. It later agreed to support,but its members walked out after sensing the mood of the rest of the opposition when the motion was put to vote.
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said the party would not boycott the JPC if the House decides to have one. But the CPM wont take part if the rest of the opposition does not participate,he said.
Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath accused the BJP of running away from a JPC,recalling that the party had stalled an entire parliament session demanding a JPC into the 2G spectrum licence scandal. There was a CBI inquiry on then. Then they said they did not trust the CBI. This is nothing but plain politics, Nath said.
The JPC,he added,would submit its report within three months of its first sitting.
Jaitley said the JPC was an exercise in futility and a diversionary tactic. The JPC will send the endeavor in pursuit of truth into tailspin,he added. The NDA wanted the CBI to probe the Rs 3,546 crore deal under the Supreme Courts supervision.
The governments surprise move came at the end of the short-duration discussion on the chopper deal which saw a united opposition tearing into the government for the delay in probing the allegations of bribery made by Italian authorities.
Defence minister A K Antony was repeatedly attacked during the discussion,with the Trinamool Congress even demanding he resign. The BJPs Ravi Shankar Prasad told Antony that the entire record of his public life had come under serious question and scrutiny. Some one is trying to save some one, he said.
Antony said the government tried its best to get information about the probe in Italy after it was first reported by The Indian Express on February 24,2012. A day after the report was published,the defence ministry requested the Indian ambassador in Rome for a report of its own,he said,adding that the ministry was since regularly corresponding with the British and Italian governments.
Antony also said the government wrote to various agencies eight times. Eight times we tried…but the Italian government told us that their judiciary was independent and they cant do anything, he said. The prosecution maintained that Italian law does not allow sharing of information or documents with anyone other than the accused and their lawyers during the investigation. Italian authorities will share information after the secrecy clause lapses,he said.
Antony,who appeared charged at times during the reply and talked about his track record in dealing with complaints of corruption,asserted the government would ensure that the guilty are brought to book. Whosoever has swindled the public money,they will have to pay the price and will be booked, he said.
Antony said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too had broached the topic with his British counterpart and went on to argue that the CBI has already registered a preliminary enquiry. Once we get a report of the PE from the CBI or we get evidence from any quarters,we will take strongest action as per the integrity pact, he said. He said the selection of the chopper,at all stages,was based on the IAFs recommendations and some parameters set by the SPG.
Responding to the TMCs demand that he resign,Antony said he had thought about it. But I did not want to run away. I will not run away. I want to punish the guilty. I want to pursue the case and bring out the guilty, he said.
Antony also said that AgustaWestland had denied all allegations referred in the showcause notice sent by his ministry. We dont believe it,their reply. We are waiting for the CBI inquiry, Antony said. His reply did not satisfy the opposition.
Jaitley said the subtext of what the defence minister said was a sense of helplessness,and slammed the government for not registering an FIR after The Indian Express reported about the Italian probe.
The bribe-giver has been identified…They have done their job arresting the bribe-giver. You have to do your job by arresting the bribe-taker, he said.
Strongly opposing a JPC,he said the panel has no powers to conduct searches,interrogate,arrest or extradite anyone and will be ineffective. Unless a case is registered,the government will not be able to send a letter rogatory. By putting up a facade of JPC,you are diverting…What did the JPC on Bofors do? he asked. How can members of parliament sitting in a panel get the names of the bribe takers?