Spectrum row continues as apex court frowns on PM’s silence (Roundup)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NEW DELHI - The political crisis over the 2G spectrum allotment scam deepened Tuesday with parliament adjourned for the fourth successive day following opposition protests, and the Supreme Court taking an exception to the 15-month inaction” and silence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a letter regarding the charges against then telecom minister A. Raja.

The government came under further pressure as it tabled in parliament the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which seriously indicted Raja for the arbitrary decisions that resulted in a revenue loss of Rs.1.76 lakh crore (nearly $40 billion) to the nation.

While the Congress said it was awaiting the details of the court observations, political circles are keenly awaiting the court proceedings Thursday.

The political discussions on the spectrum scam shifted from developments in parliament to the next hearing in the apex court in the case filed by former central minister Subramanian Swamy seeking permission to prosecute Raja.

Meanwhile, an all-party meeting Tuesday failed to resolve the impasse in parliament over the opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam with both the government and the opposition sticking to their positions.

Parliament proceedings were repeatedly disrupted Tuesday as opposition MPs continued to demand a JPC probe into the 2G spectrum allocation but the government hurriedly managed to table the CAG report in both houses despite the commotion.

The Supreme Court Tuesday took exception to the 15-month “silence” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Swamy’s public interest litigation seeking sanction to initiate proceedings against then telecom minister A. Raja over the 2G spectrum allocation.

“His right to ask for sanction is a right under the law given to citizens in democracy. You say that his right is not mature,” the court noted. Swamy had submitted an application to the prime minister Nov 29, 2008, seeking permission to initiate proceedings against Raja under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

On March 19 this year, Swamy received a reply from the Prime Minister’s Office stating that since the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was probing the matter, it was “premature” to decide on his application.

In a cutting remark, the court said that three months may not be sufficient to decide on such an application. But 15 months was too long a period.

For the prime minister to say that it is premature “is troubling us”, the judges observed. “Premature means there is no maturity level or maturity area,” the court said.

The prime minister could have said that the material on record was insufficient and declined the sanction, said the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly.

The court referred to the “inaction and silence” of the prime minister.

Pranab Mukherjee, speaking after the luncheon meeting that failed to break the impasse in parliament, said that the opposition leaders had conveyed their views.

“The leaders of opposition have expressed their views. They want a JPC probe. I have expressed our difficulty and told them we shall have to discuss among ourselves and communicate,” Mukherjee said.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the party wanted a JPC probe but it also conveyed at the meeting that the government can suggest some other mechanism as good as the JPC.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Praful Patel said the government conveyed that there were various ways to reach the truth, including discussion in parliament.

Referring to allegations of corruption and irregularities in the Commonwealth Games (CWG), for which too the opposition has demanded a JPC probe, Patel said the government told the opposition members that the V.K. Shunglu Committee was already looking into it.

He said the government would again meet the opposition leaders Thursday in a bid to resolve the impasse.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted that a JPC probe should be conducted into the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

“We told Pranab Mukherjee that Raja is a player and we need a JPC probe and those involved and accused should be held accountable and tried,” he said.

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