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Arms row rocks House

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The Centre’s decision not to place the Kargil arms purchase report before the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee rocked the Lok Sabha today. An angry Opposition, demanding privilege action against defence minister George Fernandes, forced the House to be adjourned.

The Opposition had wanted the Central Vigilance Commission report dealing with irregularities in arms purchases during the Kargil war to be tabled.

It also wanted question hour suspended to discuss the matter and a statement from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The demands put the BJP on the backfoot and led party spokesperson V.K. Malhotra to dub the Opposition as “most irresponsible”. Speaking outside Parliament, he said: “They are blackmailing us and we are sick and tired of it. We have asked the Prime Minister to convene a National Democratic Alliance meeting to discuss the issue.”

The public accounts committee has said it was unable to give its findings because the defence ministry had not given it the vigilance commission report.

But it has listed irregularities in the government order and the anomalies pointed out in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report.

The Opposition said the 22-member committee’s report was unanimous, but the BJP disagreed. However, the latter could not explain why NDA members who allegedly did not agree with the report had not attached dissenting notes.

The Lok Sabha was adjourned three times today, before Speaker Manohar Joshi called it a day at 2.30 pm.

The Opposition relented later and during the Business Advisory Committee meeting, agreed to allow the Centre to pass a constitutional amendment bill on scheduled castes and tribes tomorrow as a special gesture.

The defence minister said he had offered to show the vigilance commission findings to the accounts committee chairman Buta Singh, but this was denied by the latter.

Fernandes said the commission report on defence deals contained “top secret documents of the CBI and Intelligence Bureau”, but despite this, “we had offered to show the report to the committee chairman. We had made a similar offer to .D. Tiwari when he was chairman of the committee,” the minister said.

But Singh said he had met Fernandes only once, in Joshi’s presence, when the minister declined to show the report, saying it would be a breach of national security.

In the Lok Sabha, the Congress’ Jaipal Reddy sought suspension of question hour and admission of an adjournment notice. He said it was the first time that an accounts committee had said it was unable to give its report, leading to “a constitutional deadlock and stalemate”. He said it was Parliament’s duty to call the executive to account.

Reddy added that the panel “unanimously” felt Fernandes was guilty of breach of privilege.

The Congress rejected Fernandes’ assertion that the vigilance commission report did not include the procurements made during and immediately after the Kargil conflict.

Fernandes’ assertions, reportedly made in a letter to Joshi, would thus not help end the latest impasse in the Lok Sabha, Reddy said this evening.

Angered by his remarks, BJP’s Malhotra said most committee members felt the report was “false and wrong”. This prompted an Opposition protest, with Congress MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi asking: “How can a report be false and wrong. This is an insult.”

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