Under pressure, PM announces JPC into 2G scam (Second Lead)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NEW DELHI - Giving in to the opposition pressure, the government Tuesday announced the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe alleged irregularities into the allotment of 2G spectrum.

On the second day of the budget session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to start the process to establish the panel - a common demand of opposition parties.

“The government agrees to setting up of a JPC,” Manmohan Singh told the Lok Sabha, announcing the panel to investigate the alleged irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum to telecom firms by former communications minister A. Raja who is now in CBI custody.

The prime minister said the winter session was lost due to protests by the opposition and the country couldn’t afford to lose another parliament session. The issue had caused a long parliament logjam, washing away the entire winter session last December.

“Our government is committed to root out corruption. The government is fully cooperating with the investigations into the 2G scam,” Manmohan Singh said.

He referred to the investigation by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under supervision of the Supreme Court, parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, and report of independent inquiry committee.

“Our government believed that as all effective steps are being taken we might have been able to persuade opposition to drop the demand for a JPC. We could not succeed in spite of sincere efforts,” admitted Manmohan Singh, adding, “It is in this special circumstance, that our government agrees to setting up of JPC.”

He said that as a “functioning democracy”, India must strive to resolve differences in spirit of accommodation, not confrontation.

“I am therefore requesting the honourable speaker to proceed with the formation of JPC. The formal motion will be moved soon,” said Manmohan Singh.

The significant announcement comes as the opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had put tremendous pressure on the government to get the scam investigated by parliament. The panel has the powers to even call for questioning cabinet ministers and the prime minister.

Manmohan Singh said that the process to form the panel would be started soon.

Sources said the follow-up action on the prime minister’s announcement would be made in coming days. They said a formal motion for setting up the JPC would be moved by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal after the prime minister replies to the discussion on the motion of thanks to President Pratibha Patil’s Monday address to a joint sitting of parliament.

Once the motion gets a go ahead from the Lok Sabha, it will be referred to the Rajya Sabha for approval.

The BJP and other opposition parties welcomed the decision. Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj thanked the prime minister and called it a “victory of democracy”.

“This is not the victory of ruling or opposition benches. This is the victory of democracy,” said Swaraj.

“It is the beauty of Indian democracy that even in the difficult circumstances, we sit down and find the way. This time, it took some more time.

“I would like to tell parliamentarians, let’s drop the victory celebrations. We will start proceedings,” she said.

Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta also welcomed the decision, saying the government had only done its duty. “It’s good that good sense has prevailed upon the government. It is the PM’s responsibility to see that parliament functions.”

The government now hopes that the budget session will be peaceful and productive as no significant business was conducted during the winter session because of the opposition’s disruption of proceedings over the JPC demand.

Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur, who represents the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said: “The government now hopes that the parliament will function smoothly. It is a significant decision and the Congress welcomes it.”

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