Guilty to be punished, says FM
New Delhi, November 28
So effective was Mr Chidambaram’s counter-attack that the Lower House rejected the motion with a voice vote and the Opposition did not press for voting. Speaker Somnath Chatterjee asked the Leader of the Opposition, Mr L.K. Advani, who had initiated the debate on the motion, whether he wanted a division, Mr Advani replied in the negative.
In any case, the Opposition was not left with much of a chance for pressing for a division as the Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party staged a walkout soon after Mr Chidambaram’s speech “in protest” against the minister’s response.
Capping the seven-hour-long debate, Mr Chidamabarm made four points which were enough for Mr Advani to concede that had the government said all this earlier, the Opposition would not even have come up with the adjournment motion on the Volcker report on alleged kickbacks to Indian entities in the Iraqi oil-for-food programme.
One, he assured the House that the government was determined to go to the root of the matter and will not spare anyone found guilty.
Second, the Justice R.S. Pathak Inquiry Authority was a full-fledged judicial commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act and the government was committed to tabling the Authority’s report in Parliament along with an Action Taken Report.
Third, there was no flip-flop in the government stand on the Volcker issue and the Minister quoted from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two statements on the subject, made on October 30 and November 3, wherein he had stated almost in similar language that facts mentioned in the Volcker report were insufficient to take action against the then External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh.
Fourth, the Opposition’s charge that the constitution of the Authority under Section 11 of the Commission of Inquiry Act and not under Section 3 diluted its scope and powers was untenable because the government had asked Justice Pathak whether he wanted the Authority to be set up under Section 3 or 11, and Justice Pathak had himself opted for the latter.
On the last point, Mr Chidambaram elaborated at length and marshalled all his legal skills to argue why the Opposition’s charge about the Pathak Inquiry Authority having diluted powers was wrong. He said he himself had a meeting with Justice Pathak and asked him whether he wanted the Authority to be set up under Section 3 or 11 of the Commission of Inquiry Act.
Mr Chidamabaram explained why Justice Pathak chose the Section 11 route: because Section 3 would have hampered his work because of Section 8 (b) and Section 8 (c) which, far from conferring any powers on the Authority, would have imposed procedural restrictions. He said if the Authority had been appointed under Section 3 of the Act, sub-sections 8 (b) and 8 (c) would have been automatically applicable which Justice Pathak did not want.
The Finance Minister went a step ahead and announced: “If Justice Pathak wants these sections, I make a promise here and now that tomorrow we will issue a notification to this effect.”
He said according to the Volcker report, four payments were allegedly issued to the Indian entities in March, May, June and November, all in the year 2001. “But who made these payments? On whose behalf? There are no answers to these important questions in the Volcker report. If there is anyone in this House who has an answer to these questions, I am prepared to rest the matter here only. The only possible way to get to these answers is through a Commission of Inquiry which the government has appointed,” Mr Chidambaram said.
Mr Chidambaram said the Government of India, like no other government in the world, had adopted a three-pronged approach in getting to the bottom of the matter: (i) investigations by Special Envoy Virender Dayal and collection of relevant documents from the United Nations; (ii) investigations by Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials, who are armed with FEMA; and (iii) the Pathak Authority to pronounce if any wrongdoing has been done by any Indian entity.
He cited the news developments calendar in connection with the Volcker report storm to buttress his contention that the UPA government had acted promptly like no other government had done. After the publication of the Volcker report on October 27, Mr Dayal was appointed on November 7, followed by the appointment of Justice Pathak on November 11. Then on November 17, Mr Dayal left for New York to collect documents and then on November 24 he returned with hundreds of documents.
Mr Chidambaram said he was not aware of a single example in the history of independent India when a government had acted so swiftly in a matter like this. He took a dig on the Opposition, saying that the Opposition was “envious and disappointed” because “We did not give them an opportunity of another political spectacle which your government took up with Justice Shah Commission.”