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No change in terms of Pathak panel: PM
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

On Board Prime Minister’s Aircraft, December 11
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today made two important averments with regard to the Pathak Inquiry Authority on the Volcker issue: that his government will not tinker with the Commission’s terms of reference and that the papers brought here by Special Envoy Virender Dayal from the United Nations will not be made public.

On the Indian government’s ongoing exercise to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities envisaged in the July 18 Indo-US nuclear agreement, the Prime Minister said it had reached “an advanced stage” — a clear signal to the US about New Delhi’s unflinching commitment on the nuclear deal.

Dr Manmohan Singh also dropped enough indications that politics would not have the better of economics on the thorny issue of EPF interest rates which the EPF Board has decided to cut down from 9.5 per cent to 8.5 per cent.

The Prime Minister, who reached Kuala Lumpur this evening for participating in the fourth India-ASEAN and first-ever East Asia Summit, made these pronouncements while talking to accompanying reporters on board his special aircraft “Air India One”.

Asked if the government would make any changes in the terms of reference of the Pathak Inquiry Authority, Dr Manmohan Singh said: “The scope of the Pathak Commission has been spelt out in the notification. We have no proposal to tinker with that.”

In response to a question from this government whether the UPA government intended to make the Virender Dayal papers public, as demanded by the BJP, the Prime Minister said: “I think that they (the papers) are the property of Justice Pathak Inquiry Commission. Once they complete their work, Pathak Commission will complete its report and this report will also be made available in Parliament. We are not going to keep anything hidden.”

The Prime Minister’s remarks assume significance in view of a strident position gathering steam within the Congress party that the scope and terms of reference of the Pathak Commission be expanded to include the allegations of wrongdoings during the NDA Government tenure in Iraq’s oil-for-food programme and also the alleged involvement of a family member of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the scam.

The Prime Minister is expected to make a statement on the Volcker issue in Parliament on December 15, a day after his return from Kuala Lumpur, and the Volcker issue is likely to come centre-stage in the nation’s polity once again.

Dr Manmohan Singh, in response to another question from this correspondent on the status of the separation exercise vis-a-vis civil and military Indian nuclear facilities, said the programme was at a fairly advanced stage.

“We have two groups— one on the US side and another on our side. These are interacting. As far as the exercise for the separation of the civilian and nuclear facilities is concerned, the programme is at a fairly advanced stage,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s statement assumes significance as just a week ago, while talking to accompanying media delegates during his bilateral visit to Russia, his response to the same question was that the exercise was “on the right track”. The matter is going to assume a sense of urgency in Indo-US relations in the coming weeks. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is going to visit the US this month end. The effort of the two countries is to complete their respective commitments so that the deal gets the all-important approval from the US Congress before President George Bush visits India in the first quarter of next year.

When a reporter asked the Prime Minister whether he was satisfied with the EPF interest rate fixed at 8.5 per cent — 1 per cent lower than last two year’s figure— he responded: “It is not a question of my being satisfied or dissatisfied. It’s a question of what the EPF organisation can afford. We need the organisation to be strong financially and make sure that they declare interest rates which they can sustain. If they can sustain a higher rate, I will be happy.”

A couple of minutes and an unrelated question later, another reporter drew the Prime Minister to the EPF subject again and asked him to clarify whether he meant that from now onwards there would be no political intervention on an economic issue like EPF interest rates. The Prime Minister’s response was categoric: “On the issue of EPF, we had said last year also that there is no scope for budgetary subsidising.

Any rate that has to be paid has to come out from the resources of EPFO.”

Dr Manmohan Singh, answering a question on terrorism, said terrorism today was a world problem and added: “I think it is now widely recognised that international terrorism constitutes a threat to the civilised world— anywhere and everywhere.”

The Prime Minister was quite elaborate in his reply when he was asked on India-China rivalries in East and South-East Asia. He emphatically ruled out any Sino-Indian rivalries and said: “There is a misconception that India and China are in competition.

We are partners.” He stressed the need for faster growth of Sino-Indian economic exchanges and said he expected that in years to come, more Indian companies will invest in China and vice-versa.

Dr Manmohan Singh made it clear that his government was for better and closer interactions with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia, stressing that “we should look at all proposals that establish closer linkages between India and ASEAN and India and East Asia.”

In response to a question on regional blocs, the Prime Minister said there was nothing wrong in regionalism and that regionalism was here to stay. “There is the regional trading arrangement in Europe, the European arrangement is more than a trading arrangement... The American continent is also seeing an upsurge of regionalism.”


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