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Joshi takes a crack at House stalemate

New Delhi, Aug. 13: The standoff over the Central Vigilance Commission’s report on defence purchases intensified today after the Rajya Sabha chairman rejected the Opposition’s demand for a statement by the Prime Minister on the defence ministry’s refusal to hand over the document to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

In the Lok Sabha, Speaker Manohar Joshi tried to end the stalemate by calling an all-party meeting tomorrow in which, he said, he would urge Opposition parties to allow defence minister George Fernandes, who has been boycotted by them, to make a statement on August 18. The Speaker met Fernandes, PAC chairman Buta Singh and the CVC secretary separately for consultations.

In the upper House, chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat said in a six-page ruling that the vigilance commission was not tasked to probe procurement of arms for Operation Vijay — carried out in the summer of 1999 in Kargil — and had, therefore, not submitted any report.

“As such consideration of this matter by the PAC at this stage does not appear complete. A discussion on this matter in the House would, therefore, not be appropriate,” he said. The Opposition walked out in protest but the House resumed its legislative business.

The ruling came when the House reconvened after lunch following the adjournment in the morning.

The House had been adjourned after the Opposition disagreed with Shekhawat when he said he could allow a discussion provided Fernandes would reply. Opposition sources said they had requested the chairman not to give a ruling.

A miffed Opposition plans to write a letter of protest to Shekhawat tomorrow on the ground that “rulings are intended to sort out procedural disputes” and “Parliament never sits in judgement on the conduct and reports of Parliament committees”, as Left sources said.

However, the Congress was in two minds on whether it should support the Left-inspired protest.The party’s chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee, insisted that the walkout was not in protest against the chair’s ruling but because the government took up legislative business immediately thereafter.

Left sources were, however, keen to give the impression that the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha was working in sync.

According to them, even the Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party — which spoke out against Fernandes’ boycott in a Lok Sabha business advisory committee meeting this morning — were “in line”.

BJP sources claimed that given the “cracks” in the Opposition, it could agree to a statement from Fernandes.

BJP and Opposition sources said in the business advisory committee meeting, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and NCP leader Sharad Pawar, both former defence ministers, described Fernandes’ boycott as a “disservice to the nation” because “important” defence-related matters were going unmentioned.

At one point Mulayam left the meeting in a huff and was persuaded to return by CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee.

The Congress has made it clear that the alleged scams in the security and defence establishments will be its theme to hammer the BJP and beat any anti-incumbency factor in the coming Assembly elections.

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