M A I N   N E W S

PM takes BJP head-on over S-band deal
Says MoU between Forge Advisors (Devas) & Antrix signed in July 2003 during NDA regime
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New Delhi, February 24
Under constant attack from the BJP, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today took the battle into the main Opposition party’s camp, targeting Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley for the allegations he had levelled against the UPA government in the Antrix-Devas agreement.

Manmohan SinghFriendship offer to Pakistan:
“I sincerely hope and believe that the new ruling class of Pakistan would grasp the hand of friendship offered by India. We are willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan provided it stops allowing the use of its territory for terrorist activities against India.”

1 lakh jobs for Valley youth: “The Rangarajan panel’s report to work out a plan for providing up to one lakh jobs to Kashmiri youth was nearly ready and once its implementation starts, the mindset of Kashmiri people will change. We’ll do everything to strengthen the state government to provide a fairer deal to them.” Details on J&K page.

Price rise and inflation: “The government had no control on deteriorating world food situation, sharp rise in oil and commodities prices in the global market. Overall inflation will come down to 7% on the back of steps being taken by the government. The situation has improved and I expect it to improve further.”

Nothing wrong with the telecom policy: “The tele-density has gone up from 7% in March 2004 to 66% in December 2010. It clearly shows that the telecom policy has paid rich dividends. The tremendous growth has taken place as a result of sound policies pursued by our government. The policy was sound but the way it was implemented, I think, gave rise to problems.”

Black money not product of 5 years: We all need to clean our system but black money is not a product of five years… it has been there. We are negotiating legal frameworks with countries to ensure information on the issue. The PM added that the government would revisit regulatory framework to ensure it didn’t degenerate into licence permit Raj of old days.

Replying to the debate in the Upper House on the President’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament, a combative PM demolished Jaitley’s argument on the controversial deal, particularly his query about the credentials of M/S Forge Advisers (its arm in India is Devas).

“This question is better posed to his (Jaitley’s) own party leadership who were in the then NDA government and to the then Prime Minister,’’ he said in a sarcastic tone, amid thumping of desks by members on the treasury benches.

The PM then went on to say that the discussions between Forge Advisors and Antrix and ISRO were initiated in March 2003 and May 2003, respectively, and continued throughout 2003 and 2004. The MoU, which Forge Advisors signed with Antrix was in July 2003. “All this happened when the party to which the Leader of the Opposition belongs was in power and led the NDA government,” he pointed out to Jaitley and his colleagues on the BJP benches, who appeared to have been caught off-guard.

The PM also took potshots at Jaitley for describing the agreement as ‘the mother of all sweetheart deals’ and putting its figures in the range of lakhs and crores, saying the senior BJP leader was confusing S-band space segment capacity with terrestrial Spectrum. The PM told Jaitley that the prices he was quoting were for terrestrial Spectrum and that no allocation of terrestrial Spectrum had been made by the government to either Antrix or Devas. Therefore, the figures quoted by the Leader of the Opposition (Jaitley) had no basis, said the PM.

Manmohan Singh also took the BJP leader head on over the pricing of lease of the transponders. He informed the House that the decision to open satellite services to non-governmental parties, India and foreign, was taken and approved by the government in 1997. “Thereafter, the norms, guidelines and procedures to operationalise the policy, including the modalities for pricing of lease of transponders were approved in 2000 by the Cabinet of which the Leader of the Opposition was himself a member at that time,’’ he said.

As if this was not enough, the PM also referred to Jaitley’s comment that the government should not live under the illusion that the issue could be brushed under the carpet by annulling the deal since that would not wipe out criminality. He informed the House that a high-powered committee had been set up and the government would take all requisite action based on its findings and recommendations.

While he was harsh on Jaitley, the PM appeared quite sober while responding to CPM leader Sitaram Yechuri’s argument that economic liberalisation had resulted in corruption. “It is a harsh truth…we should supplement these (liberalisation) policies with effective regulatory mechanism.’’

Describing the runaway inflation as a matter of concern, the PM said the government was taking measures to combat it. By the end of the fiscal year, the inflation should come down to seven per cent, said the PM.

The Prime Minister expressed satisfaction over the internal security situation due to a number of steps taken by the government. “I am not saying we don’t face the threat of fresh terror attacks but the government was trying to incorporate the best practices available in the world into the country’s internal security apparatus,” he said.

The communal situation, the PM said, had been ‘very satisfactory’’ and in this connection referred to how, contrary to the government’s apprehension, there was no tension anywhere in the country in the wake of the Ayodhya verdict last year.

As he wound up his 35-minute speech, Congress members vied with each other to compliment the PM. And he could hardly hide his smile.





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