Tuesday, October 22, 2013

JPC probe on 2G Scam: The absurd political theatre


J Gopikrishnan - October 17, 2013 – The Pioneer OpEd

As expected, the Congress-dominated Joint Parliamentary Committee has given a report on the 2G Spectrum scam that clears Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Minister for Finance P Chidambaram, and puts all the blame on former Minister of Communication and Information Technology A Raja. This dubious report, prepared without summoning the trio by the JPC headed by PC Chacko, is among the darkest chapters in India’s parliamentary system. The Congress has once again shown its arrogance and disrespect to Parliament by achieving its dubious designs through a majority of votes, with the help of its bargainable and perennial supporters like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mr Chacko had no qualm in accepting the Congress spokesperson’s post during his stint as JPC Chairman. His role and job was to provide an escape route to the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister.

But the worst was the performance of the two JD(U) Members of Parliament in the JPC. They were absent during the final voting to adopt the report. These MPs had a few months back rejected the findings of Mr Chacko-led JPC and signed on a memorandum along with BJP members of the panel for the dismissal of Mr Chacko. One of them, Mr Sharad Yadav, had been vocal in Parliament for the past five years on the 2G Spectrum scam. Due to his party’s new political line, he and his party colleague had to play the abstaining drama, facilitating the Congress to get a walkover.

The scam basically happened during Raja’s period. But the Congress cleverly argued for a probe into telecom deals from 2000 in a bid to catch the BJP off guard. Then it further went back to the period from 1997. This has been the Congress’s strategy when it has been hit by scams. The same strategy was adopted in the coal block allocation irregularity; the party-led Government extended the probe to 1994.

The saddest part is that the JPC had been used as a tool to bully then Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai. The Congress was showing its wrath on him for exposing its Government’s corruption. Mr Rai was summoned five times and literally ragged by members of the Congress. All anger on Mr Rai was over the calculation of the huge presumptive loss — ranging from Rs 45,000 crore to Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The CAG’s findings were ratified by the Supreme Court in several orders and judgements, including in the cancellation of tainted 122 licences.

The Department of Telecommunications, which parroted now Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal’s infamous ‘zero loss’ theory, thought nothing of writing to the JPC about the alleged Rs 42,000 crore loss during the NDA regime. The JPC was used as a tool promote this fictitious calculation in a bid to indict  former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

After all, the theory of loss of more than Rs 42,000 crore is a laughable one. In those days, a mobile phone user had to pay a monthly rental charge of Rs 500. That means, Rs 6000 were paid annually for holding a mobile phone. In 1999, considering  worldwide practices, the Government decided to waive this fee. After 13 years Mr Sibal says this decision led to a huge loss. The Congress-dominated JPC wants us to believe the tainted Telecom Department, but not the findings of the CAG.

Moreover, Mr Vajpayee’s name was added in the list of witnesses to be summoned. These attempts were  nothing but part of the dirty tricks department of the Congress. Mr Chacko now says that Mr Vajpayee’s name was inadvertently figured in the list. What an explanation!

When  Opposition MPs demanded the summoning of Mr Chidambaram, it the JPC went for a vote, knowing it had a majority. According to the judgement of the 2G Special Court, Mr Chidambaram and Raja were party to two decisions. First, fixing the price of the spectrum at dirt cheap price, and second, offloading of shares of tainted companies to multinationals at exorbitant prices. Raja became an accused primarily for these two reasons.

However, the courts said later that petitioner Subramanian Swamy did not prove the criminality of Mr Chidambaram. Is it the duty of Mr Swamy to find the criminality of Mr Chidambaram? Anyway, the courts did not ask the Central Bureau of Investigation to treat Mr Chidambaram like Raja.

Whatever the fans and cronies of Mr Chidambaram argue, the fact is that he is politically, administratively and morally responsible for  the sins charged on Raja.

The JPC did not touch the subject of the Aircel-Maxis scam, which is an open and shut case for fixing the fate of Mr Chidambaram and Mr Dayanidhi Maran. This dubious deal was approved by Mr Chidambaram, by violating all norms. The deal, worth more than Rs 4,000 crore, had no mandatory Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approval. Maxis acquired almost 100 per cent shares in Aircel, while the rules permits a maximum of 74 per cent. There was a huge variation in the sale of shares. Seventy four per cent was sold for around Rs 4,000 crore and the rest went  for  a pittance of Rs 30 crore in same period.

The 2012 Budget Session of Parliament came to a standstill on revelations about the complicity of Mr Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis deal. But Mr Chacko, who jumped on a tainted retired auditor’s dilly dallying utterances (a planted one), kept his eyes, ears and mouth shut.

Mr Manmohan Singh, a mute spectator in the 2G scam, became a laughing stock, when he offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, while remaining silent over appearing before the JPC. Raja and Mr Chidambaram may have fooled the Prime Minister in the allocation of 2G licences, but that is no excuse for the Prime Minister’s conduct.

The irony is the dissent notes of the Opposition MPs would also go through the editing process by the JPC Chairman. And these edited dissent notes will also be kept as attached with the majority MPs’ report. And what will happen to this politically cooked-up report? There will be chaos when it comes to Parliament and as usual, the House will adjourn. No debate will take place. That is what the perpetrators of the 2G Spectrum scam want. 

The pertinent question is: Should cases related to corruption be decided on voting along political lines? The JPC probe in the 2G issue exposes the pitfalls and uselessness of a parliamentary probe, where ultimately every decision is taken on blind political affiliation. 

The silver lining has been the Supreme Court’s intervention to monitor the CBI probe. Credit goes to Mr Swamy and Mr Prashant Bhushan. At least Raja and some bribe-givers were caught.

The Special Court was set up to hear the case on a daily basis. Hopefully, the judgement will come by mid-2014. Meanwhile, what of the others who have escaped? Answer: Let us leave it to the people’s court, which will give its verdict by May 2014.