No end in sight to parliament deadlock on 2G spectrum probe (News Analysis)

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS
Thursday, November 25, 2010

NEW DELHI - Despite 10 days of legislative business already lost, the logjam in parliament showed no signs of ending Thursday with the opposition unrelenting on its demand for a parliamentary probe into the 2G spectrum allotment and the treasury anxious over the passage of crucial bills, including one that seeks more money for subsidies and federal schemes.

“We have not been able to find a solution,” said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the veteran Congress leader who has been in talks with opposition leaders to find a way out to ensure that parliamentary business resumes soon.

“I don’t know how to resolve this impasse,” he said, looking concerned over the constant disruption in both houses of parliament ever since the winter session began Nov 9.

Thursday again saw the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha adjourn for the day without transacting any business — the 10th straight day the opposition vigorously pushed its demand for a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) into the alleged 2G spectrum scam.

The opposition has been unrelenting, despite the resignation of DMK leader A. Raja as communications minister and Mukherjee’s stand that the Public Accounts Commitee, chaired the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, is like a JPC in perpetuity.

The logjam has posed a risk to the second supplementary demand for grants, already tabled in the Lok Sabha, seeking sanction to spend Rs.19,812 crore for payments towards subsidy on fertilisers and food, rural roads construction and other expenditure.

The government can technically approve the demand without a debate and through voice vote but it fears that it will receive flak from the opposition.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar told reporters that parliament was a forum to make voices heard democratically, making a passionate appeal to both sides for ending the impasse. “Whatever they want to say, they can say in the house. It is a forum to debate. We are trying to persuade both sides to ends the logjam,” Meira Kumar said.

The government has also ruled out any possibility of cutting short the winter session amid media speculation that both houses would be adjourned sine die ahead of the scheduled Dec 13.

“There is no question of cutting the session short,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal told IANS. “The session will be on till the schedule and the government is willing to discuss any issue in parliament.”

There are indications that Mukherjee, a known-trouble shooter, will make yet another attempt to speak to opposition leaders for ending the logjam.

A Congress leader said the finance minister will meet some opposition leaders soon and try to persuade them to let the houses function.

But it might not yield results with an opposition unwilling to yield.

“If it has done nothing wrong then why is the government shying away from a JPC,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar asked.

Javadekar told IANS that the opposition would settle for “nothing less than a JPC probe into the scam”.

The Congress appears to be caught in a quandry — it is wary of the risks involved if a JPC starts probing the alleged irregularities in the 2008 allocation of second-generation mobile telephony spectrum that is said to have caused huge losses to the national exchequer.

If a JPC is set up, the panel will have the authority to question any minister, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “But the government won’t allow that situation to arise as it may also mean an admission of guilt,” said a Congress leader.

The pending bills in parliament include the Forward Contracts Regulation Bill, the Recovery of Debts due to Banks and FIIs Bill, the Chit Fund Bill, the Companies Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill.

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