Amid Opposition walkout, government wins motion in Rajya Sabha

Amid protests and walkout by the entire Opposition, the government on Wednesday moved a motion in the Rajya Sabha — which was adopted by voice vote — for the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) “to inquire into the allegations of payment of bribes in the acquisition of VVIP helicopters by the Ministry of Defence from M/s AgustaWestland and the role of alleged middlemen in the transaction.”

The UPA was backed by parties supporting it from the outside, including the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. The motion will later be moved in the Lok Sabha.

The JPC will have 10 members from the Rajya Sabha and 20 from the Lok Sabha and shall give its report within three months of its first sitting.

Before leading the walkout by members of the National Democratic Alliance (followed by the TDP, BJD, JD (U), AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, AGP and the Left parties), Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said it was a “diversionary tactic” as the JPC had no investigative powers. The matter required extradition and custodial interrogation of persons which the JPC could not do.

Mr. Jaitley said that while Italian investigators had arrested the bribe-giver, the Indian government was silent on the identity of the bribe-takers who must essentially be in India as the deal was signed by India.

“It is in your jurisdiction to identify the bribe-takers. You cannot pass the buck to the U.K. or Italy. By waiting for 367 days from the time you first received information in 2012 about payment of bribes till you ordered a preliminary inquiry by the CBI in 2013, you have allowed bribe-takers opportunity to destroy every piece of evidence. Because the government has not followed correct procedure, we oppose the motion,” he said.

CPI’s D. Raja asked the government to defer the motion as, he said, there was an “extraordinary situation” with the major Opposition parties walking out. “In such a situation, to put the motion to vote will be unfair. There should have been consultations,” he said. He was overruled by Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien who said that if there was no agreement he would put the motion to vote.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Kamal Nath moved the motion — despite several members opposing it — minutes after Defence Minister A.K. Antony expressed the UPA’s willingness for a JPC probe.

“I want to know the truth and punish the guilty whoever it be, howsoever powerful,” Mr. Antony said in reply to a short discussion on the issue. “I thought of it [resigning],” he said and added “but I will not run away.”

He said India had approached the investigators and judiciary in Italy who said that under their secrecy clause, they could not share information till the investigations were over. In India a preliminary CBI inquiry was on.

Mr. Nath said the JPC would monitor the progress of the CBI’s investigation. “I do not understand why they [Opposition] are running away from a JPC, they who had taken up a whole session seeking a JPC on 2G spectrum deal. If we do not have a JPC, we will be accused…”

The House was divided between the formation of a JPC and a Supreme Court-monitored investigation by the CBI.