The 2G spectrum allocation controversy was back in the eye of the storm, even as Parliament remained gridlocked for a second day on the question under which rule the contentious issue of FDI in multibrand retail should be debated — with or without a vote.
With the former chief auditor in the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s office, R.P. Singh, virtually accusing BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi of using his position as chief of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to influence the final CAG report on the 2G issue, the government got some fresh ammunition to use against the Opposition.
Mr. Singh told The Indian Express that Dr. Joshi had spoken to CAG officials a day before the release of the controversial report that had held the government responsible for a “presumptive” loss of Rs. 1.76-lakh crore by adopting the first come, first served policy in allocation of spectrum. Mr. Singh also questioned the CAG’s presumptive loss figure, saying the losses incurred could not have been more than Rs. 37,000 crore and this too, he said, was entirely recoverable.
For the Congress, which has been vainly contesting the “presumptive” loss figure for a year and a half, and defending its right to adopt the first come, first served policy, Mr. Singh’s assertions came like manna from heaven. Shortly after the Congress core group congregated in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office in Parliament House on Friday, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, responding to a question whether the BJP had been “exposed” by the former auditor’s revelations, said “Yes, absolutely I think so.”
And it was not just the Congress demanding a response from the BJP and the CAG: even Left leaders — who have, otherwise, been working in concert with the BJP on the FDI issue — sought clarifications from the principal opposition party. “The allegation that he influenced the report is very serious. M.M. Joshi should explain his position,” said the CPI’s D. Raja.
If proved wrong, I will quit: Joshi
Dr. Joshi, on his part, described as “baseless” Mr. Singh’s claims that CAG officials had met him at his residence on a gazetted holiday to help him prepare the PAC report on 2G, and denied that he had, in any way, tried to influence the CAG report: if any of the charges were proved, he said, he would quit. Talking to journalists at a post-Diwali party that he hosted on Friday evening, he said Mr. Singh, who had deposed both before the PAC and subsequently before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on 2G, had not raised any of these issues. “I don’t know why R.P. Singh has spoken out now. It’s a conspiracy by the Congress and other vested interests to malign the CAG and the PAC,” he alleged, adding,
“Mrs. Gandhi said we are exposed. I can say, ‘Sorry madam,you are exposed’.” Whatever the truth, Mr. Singh’s revelations sparked off a fresh war of words between the Congress and the BJP. “The allegations must be probed. It is a serious issue. These allegations will be discussed in Parliament,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said, even as Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and Congress chief whip Girija Vyas joined the chorus in demanding a clarification. Ms. Vyas pointed out that as the allegations were against a body created to keep a check on the government’s functioning, it was a serious matter, requiring investigation.
“The issues raised by R.P. Singh are very germane. In May 2010 when the draft report was prepared the loss was quantified at Rs. 2,645 crore; in November 2010 when the report was presented in Parliament this loss jumped to Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. How did this leap of faith take place,” Mr. Tewari asked.
Meanwhile, with the Prime Minister’s dinner for BJPleaders on Thursday night failing to achieve a breakthrough, with the latter stressing that the government had reneged on its promise to consult all parties and State governments, the government’s managers redoubled their efforts ahead of an all-party meeting on FDI slated for Monday.