Some unfortunate incidents, but no wrongdoer will escape: PM (Roundup)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NEW DELHI - Admitting to “some unfortunate incidents” in telecom policy implementation and the conduct of the Commonwealth Games, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday assured parliament that his government would do everything to “clean up” public life.

He also said the cabinet was not informed of the S-band spectrum allocation in the Antrix-Devas deal.

“I will be the last person to deny some unfortunate incidents took place in the areas of telecom and Commonwealth Games. There is nothing that we will not do in order to clean up public life… We will not flinch from our commitment that no wrongdoer will escape law,” Manmohan Singh said, replying in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to the debate on motion of thanks to President Pratibha Patil’s address.

The prime minister did not agree that a scam had taken place, as has been widely imputed and believed, but said that “if a scam had taken place in its (telecom policy) implementation, it will be dealt with”.

Singh said the government had taken action against persons in connection with the recent scams “whenever and wherever credible evidence was available” and that state chief ministers and central ministers had to resign in such matters.

The prime minister however defended his government on the 2G spectrum issue.

He said scams should not cloud the tremendous growth in the telecom sphere in the country and added that there was nothing wrong in the present telecom policy of not auctioning telephony spectrum.

Admitting to problems in the telecom sector, the prime minister said: “These problems are now being looked into by the JPC (joint parliamentary committee), PAC (public accounts committee) and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation).”

Having spoken thrice in the two houses on a single day, Manmohan Singh was seen sipping water during his replies - each lasting for about 45 minutes.

The prime minister intervened during the question hour earlier on the Antrix-Devas S-band spectrum deal and said the reported loss to the government exchequer running into “lakhs of crores” of rupees, as being projected in some quarters, had no basis since the government had not executed the contract.

He said the contract, signed in 2005 on a decision at the ISRO level, was reviewed by the government in December 2009 and the space commission had decided to annul it. “In light of the country’s strategic requirement, a decision has been taken not to give away the S-band for commercial use.”

The prime minister said that the cabinet came into the picture indirectly as it dealt with approval for launch of two satellites.

“It was not mentioned in the cabinet note that there was a specific commitment between Devas and Antrix,” he said.

He said there was no question of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) being asked to approve the deal.

Sharing the opposition’s concern over black money stashed in tax havens abroad, he said everything would be done to bring it back to address poverty in India.

“We all want to clean up our system of this menace. We are one with the opposition that everything should be done to bring back black money stashed abroad to India,” he said.

On Pakistan, the prime minister said India was “willing to resolve all outstanding issues” with the neighbour and expressed sincere hope that it would “grasp our hand of friendship” and end terror as an instrument of state policy and use of its soil for anti-India activities.

Referring to Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister said the government was working to provide 50,000-100,000 jobs to the youths there. This, he said, would change the “mental makeup and mindset” of the job-starved state.

Calling for “constant vigil” on the security front, he listed terrorism, extremism, insurgency in north-eastern states as some of the internal security challenges. “I am not claiming we have succeeded in getting over this problem, but these have been contained.”

The prime minister said terror was not attributable to any particular religion.

This comment drew reaction from the BJP benches, with former finance minister Yashwant Sinha on his feet asking, “Then why did your home minister talk of saffron terror.”

On the Maoist threat, the prime minister said the issue had to be handled with “sensitivity”, noting that economic deprivation drew “our own” people to the extremist group.

On inflation, Manmohan Singh said it had become a problem in the last 18 months but the government was committed to control it by end of this fiscal (March 2011) to about 7 percent.

Hitting back at Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley for criticising him, the prime minister said India was a success story under the UPA government and was a topic of discussion at world fora.

“I urge the leader of opposition to read more. He will then be educated enough not to use the harsh words he used against me by saying I am an eminent economist but made a mess of the country,” he said.

In the Lok Sabha too, Singh said during parliamentary debates, questions can be raised on policy and its implementation, but not on his intentions. “If you start questioning intentions, this is not good for the growth of parliamentary system,” he added.

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