Facing relentless opposition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday of “stringent action” against those who had siphoned off money from the farm loan waiver scheme.
The government also agreed to have a discussion on the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday and highlighted the irregularities.
His promise of action apart, Dr. Singh favoured that the normal procedure be followed: referring the report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
“This is a matter which should be entrusted to the Public Accounts Committee as per the normal practice. If there are any irregularities…, I assure the House that we will take stringent… action against the defaulters,” he said. The Prime Minister made the statement after BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad raised the issue during zero hour. But the BJP members were not satisfied with his statement and entered the Well, forcing Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien to adjourn the House for a while.
Mr. Prasad referred to the CAG report, which states 34 lakh undeserving people had got the benefit, while 24 lakh eligible farmers were left out. “It is a clear case of scam. The middlemen, in connivance with bank officials, siphoned off the money of farmers,” he said, pointing out that the Prime Minister himself had visited Maharashtra to launch the scheme.
Mr. Prasad read out a Reserve Bank of India circular that asks banks to act against the guilty within a fortnight.
Conceding the vociferous demand from the Opposition, the government agreed to discuss the report in the Lok Sabha. As soon as the House met, BJP and Left members raised the issue.
Question hour was disrupted as AIADMK members came to the aisle, highlighting the “plight” of the ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the BJP and Samajwadi Party members trooped into the Well, demanding a suo motu discussion.
Responding to a brief debate, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said, “I share the sentiments of the members. It is not only a matter of grave concern but it is a matter of shame.”
Speaker Meira Kumar said the members should give notice so that the House could debate the “important matter” in detail.
Raising the issue during zero hour, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said thousands of people were denied the benefit, while those ineligible got the relief. Demanding that bank officials and auditors be questioned, she said the RBI had convened a meeting of banks in January and given them time to rectify the mistakes, “but no action was taken.”
Ms. Swaraj also sought a structured discussion on the “very serious matter.”
The former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular), said it was big landlords who had cornered the benefit in the name of their tenants or landless farmers. He demanded land reforms without which any pro-farmer scheme could not be properly implemented.