Thursday, December 13, 2001, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Adamant Oppn stalls proceedings again
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12
A determined and united Opposition today continued to stall the proceedings of Parliament for the second consecutive day, forcing adjournments in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, demanding the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes over the coffin scam.

The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha both adjourned for the day without transacting any business as vociferous Opposition members stalled proceedings raising slogans “coffin chor, gaddi chhoro” (coffin swindler should quit).

While the Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day when it reassembled at 12 noon after the first adjournment, the Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day minutes after it met again after lunch at 2.30 pm. when Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed sensed that the members were not in a mood to budge even after ensuring two adjournments in the pre-lunch session.

Trouble began soon after both Houses met for the day as members raised the issue of CAG findings about irregularities in defence procurement, including coffins for Kargil martyrs.

Displaying the CAG report, they demanded immediate resignation of the Defence Minister, who has been under Opposition attack since his re-induction into the Union Cabinet in October.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who returned from a five-day tour of Japan last night, was present in the Lok Sabha when the House met.

Due to uproar in the Lok Sabha, Home Minister L.K. Advani again failed to introduce the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Bill to replace the POTO for the second day today.

The Opposition had stonewalled the bill’s introduction yesterday.

Soon after the Rajya Sabha assembled for question hour in the morning, the House was thrown into turmoil as Opposition members were on their feet shouting “coffin chor, gaddi chhoro”. Within minutes, Chairman Krishan Kant adjourned the House till 12 noon.

When it met again, the Opposition persisted with its demand for the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes and the Chairman adjourned the House for the day after listed papers were tabled amidst the din.

Congress and Left party members were seen waving copies of the CAG report which indicted the government for financial impropriety on defence purchases for Kargil operations, including procurement of coffins for the dead war heroes.

Some members displayed newspapers carrying the CAG report today.

In the Lok Sabha, agitated Opposition members raised slogans as soon as the House assembled in the morning, pressing for the ouster of Mr Fernandes.

Unlike yesterday when Opposition members stormed the well defying the recently adopted Code of Conduct and threw papers, today leaders of various parties directed their members against moving in to the well.

With no signs of restoration of order, Speaker G M C Balayogi adjourned the House till mid-day.

It was a repeat of the morning uproar when the House re-assembled with Opposition members shouting “gaddi chhoro” (leave the chair) and “Sena khoon bahati hai, sarkar dalali khati hai” (Soldiers shed blood, government takes commission).

As the din continued, Deputy Speaker Sayeed adjourned the House till 2.30 pm.Back


Congress not to relent
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12
The Congress today indicated that it would not budge from the demand for resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes and would work in close coordination with other Opposition parties on the issue.

Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the issue of caskets purchased for the Kargil martyrs was only the tip of the iceberg and the CAG report had pointed to several other anomalies in contracts which had been approved by the Defence Minister.

Asked why the Congress was not responding to the government offer for debate on the CAG issue, Mr Reddy said the party wanted deterrent political action. “The minimum we are seeking is resignation of Mr Fernandes,” the spokesman said.

Asserting that the CAG report was a ringing indictment of the Vajpayee government, the Congress spokesman also took exception to the manner in which Law Minister Arun Jaitley was “trying to rubbish the report of the CAG either by implication or through insinuation.”

“The CAG report was well-considered and had taken into consideration all replies of the Defence Ministry,’’ the spokesman said.

He said 129 contracts worth Rs 2,175.40 crore were signed for Operation Vijay of which contracts worth Rs 1,606 crore were concluded after the Kargil war was over.

Admitting that defence procurement procedures were simplified in placing orders while a war was being fought, Mr Reddy wondered why the procurement procedures continued to be relaxed after the war was over. “Contracts worth 75 per cent of the total value were made after the war was over,” Mr Reddy said, adding that there was no justification for simplification of procedures after the war was over.

Mr Reddy said irregularities were not with regard to a contract. “The ammunition for T-72 tanks was also delivered after the war and the order was approved by the Defence Minister,” he said.

Quoting from the CAG report, Mr Reddy said the Defence Minister approved in June 99 import of 26,000 rounds of ammunition for T-72 tanks. “This ammunition worth Rs 116.83 crore was patently unnecessary as even a layman knows that T-72 tanks would not be deployed in Kargil,” Mr Reddy said.

He pointed out that the Chief Controller of R&D had pointed out that the DRDO could supply the T-72 ammunition but it was ultimately imported from Israel ignoring an offer from Russia from flimsy grounds. Drawing a comparison with the Tehelka expose, Mr Reddy said the Barak missile figuring in the expose was also purchased from Israel.Back


Govt challenges Oppn to debate
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12
Terming the adjournment forced by the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament for the second consecutive day today as “unjustified”, the Vajpayee government today challenged the Opposition to have a “threadbare” debate on the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report on the coffins purchase issue.

“I am making a direct charge against the Opposition. They would not stand any where if it was discussed in Parliament threadbare,” Law Minister Arun Jaitley, who was shouted down by Opposition members in the Lok Sabha today, told newspersons.

Criticising the Opposition for not allowing the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament for the past two days, Mr Jaitley accused the opposition of jumping into conclusion “merely on the basis of a preliminary report submitted by the CAG, which has not been dealt with by Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC).”

“There was a constitutional mechanism for the follow up of the CAG report which has to be dealt with by the PAC. Once the PAC takes it up and gives its comment it could be debated in Parliament, he added.

Stating that the PAC was headed by none other than a member from the Congress, Mr Jaitley said “the Opposition should have waited for the committee’s observations. Still if it wanted a debate in Parliament, the government was ready for it.”

Strongly defending Mr George Fernandes and pooh-poohing the Opposition demand for his resignation, the Law Minister said it was Mr Fernandes who had voluntarily referred all defence purchases made during the Kargil conflict to the PAC.

In fact the process of going in for purchase of aluminium caskets had begun in 1995 when Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Defence Minister.”

“The report also had not made any remark against Mr Fernandes,” he said to buttress his arguments against Opposition’s demand for the Defence Minister’s scalp.


PM has not sought resignation of George
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12
Even as the Opposition resolved to stall the proceedings of Parliament till Union Defence Minister George Fernandes is “dismissed”, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee appears confident that the storm created by the CAG report will “blow over soon.”

“The Prime Minister has not sought the resignation of Mr Fernandes,” authoritative sources said. They contend that the Opposition is expectedly trying to seek political mileage out of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) with an eye on the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal.

However, those responsible for any acts of omission or commission in the Kargil martyrs coffins deal will be brought to book, the sources asserted. They were cautiously optimistic that Parliament would resume its normal business from next week which is belied by the belligerent mood in the Opposition camp.

For all outward appearances, the Vajpayee government is trying to put up a brave front that Mr Fernandes cannot be held accountable for the findings of the CAG report. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister has come under sustained attack for reinducting Mr Fernandes in the government especially when the Venkataswamy commission of inquiry into the Tehelka expose is yet to complete its work and submit report.

It was the BJP-led NDA government which had sought a critical examination of the purchases made for the armed forces during Pakistan’s misadventure in the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir in 1999. The CAG report has unleashed a fresh controversy by providing the necessary lever to the Opposition to launch a frontal attack against the Vajpayee government.

There is discernible consternation in certain sections of the NDA that the emotive issue of Kargil martyrs can have an adverse impact for the ruling coalition in the Assembly elections barely 10 weeks away.

This assumes importance as the Vajpayee government is sought to be characterised as “Kafan chor (coffin thief).” They feel Mr Fernandes should bide his time outside the government till the CAG coffins issue is settled and the report of the Venkataswamy commission submitted to the government.

The combined Opposition, on the other hand maintains that it is acutely aware of the conduct rules of Parliament and acknowledges the supremacy of Lok Sabha Speaker G M C Balayogi.

The Congress, Left and other Opposition parties and groups have made their position clear to the Presiding Officer that “if action is initiated against them in the form of suspension for blocking the proceedings of the House, so be it. The CAG report corroborates the Tehelka expose of alleged kickback in defence deals,” the Opposition leaders said.

A Congress leader asked. “Why is Mr Fernandes not resigning”? “Propriety demands that the Union Defence minister quits the government. Our fight is against corruption in high places and we want nothing short of the dismissal of Mr Fernandes as the CAG has clearly indicted him,” he added.Back

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