Spectrum sparks fly, opposition blocks parliament (Roundup)

Friday, November 19, 2010

NEW DELHI - The 2G spectrum saga crippled parliament for another day Friday as the opposition refused to give up its demand for a parliamentary probe into the scandal that has enveloped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Feeling the Supreme Court heat on the handling of the issue by Manmohan Singh, the government decided that Attorney General G. Vahanvati would represent the Prime Minister’s Office at the next hearing Tuesday in the apex court.

Political circles saw it as an expression of displeasure over Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium’s handling of the matter in the Supreme Court.

Vahanvati confirmed he would represent the Prime Minister’s Office before judges G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, who asked two days ago why the prime minister did not give sanction to Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy in 2008 to file a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act against A. Raja, who resigned as the communication minister five days ago over the 2G spectrum controversy.

In another spectrum scam petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), Subramanium will represent the department of telecommunications and Additional Solicitor General Harin Rawal will argue for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

With Manmohan Singh silent on his own role vis-a-vis the controversy, both houses of parliament were again adjourned over the opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) into the scam.

Opposition members, including those of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Left parties, Samajwadi Party and AIADMK, shouted slogans in both houses demanding a JPC and clarification from Manmohan Singh on the scam.

The improper allocation of 2G frequencies to telecom companies by Raja is estimated to have cost the exchequer Rs.176,000 crore (Rs.1.76 trillion/approx $39 billion).

Friday was the sixth day of adjournments in parliament. Practically no business has been transacted in the six days of the ongoing winter session that began Nov 9.

Amid protests, the government has tabled the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the 2G spectrum allotment.

In the 96-page report, the auditor sought to spell out what it felt was the potential loss to the exchequer in the 2G spectrum allocation in 2007-08 due to the policies followed during the regime of Raja.

“The entire process of spectrum allocation was undertaken in an arbitrary manner,” said the report, adding the estimate of the loss was based on various parameters — without recourse to any “mathematical or econometric models” — and “presumptive” in nature.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee pleaded with opposition parties to allow parliamentary proceedings to continue and said he was not opposed to an investigation.

“I am deeply concerned about the situation which is being created where parliament cannot transact its business. Therefore, my appeal to all political parties is that please try to find a solution,” Mukherjee said on the sidelines of an event to celebrate the 105th anniversary of Canara Bank.

Mukherjee’s comments come a day after the watchdog, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), recommended scrapping of 69 of the 130 licences given for 2G phone services since December 2006 due to poor roll-out.

The government has declined to form a JPC, saying the Public Accounts Committee, whose chairman is BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, is equipped to probe any issue.

Political temperatures rose earlier Friday after BJP president Nitin Gadkari accused the prime minister of giving “full freedom” to the DMK to “loot the country” - over the spectrum allotment.

“PM ne DMK ko desh ko lootne ki puri azaadi di (PM gave the DM full freedom to loot the country),” he said in Lucknow.

New Communication and IT Minister Kapil Sibal said his ministry would consider the recommendation of TRAI to cancel 2G licences allotted since December 2006.

Outside parliament, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters that the “Congress was not running away from the parliament. We are ready to debate the issue at any appropriate forum.”

Filed under: Economy

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