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Congress pours out its CAG ‘distress’

New Delhi, Jan. 14: The Congress has expressed “surprise” and “distress” at the Comptroller and Auditor General’s attempt to prevent MPs from speaking on its findings on 2G spectrum allocation.

The ruling party’s response stems from its displeasure with the CAG’s selective objection to new telecom minister Kapil Sibal’s public critique of its report which had been used as political fodder by the Opposition for the past two months.

The CAG had said that “making public comments on the matter which is being considered by a parliamentary committee is highly improper and may even amount to contempt of the House”.

The CAG was responding to Sibal’s comments which questioned the auditor’s estimate that the government suffered a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in 2G allocation.

Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natrajan said at the party’s formal briefing: “We are surprised and distressed to see the statement of the CAG which seems to contain a suggestion that MPs don’t have a right to speak on a particular issue. They have mentioned Rule 1.12 of the rules of conduct and procedures of business which we could not find. As far as we understand, there is no rule which prohibits an MP from speaking on a subject.”

Natrajan said: “We have seen reports in great detail on the CAG report on 2G in newspapers before it was tabled in Parliament. We have seen top Opposition leaders speaking on the report before it was tabled in November. Is the CAG suggesting that only one aspect — criticism of the report — is improper when the report has been thoroughly written and commented upon?”

She said: “The MPs are advised on how to conduct themselves but we also want to know how these leaks occurred.” Asked if she was suggesting the CAG leaked the report, she said: “No, I want to know how it was leaked.”

To a question if the Congress was attacking the constitutional authority, she said: “Not at all. We are saying that suggesting MPs cannot speak on a report which is being studied by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is a strong statement. We are also pointing it out that it is not only the Congress which has spoken on the report.”

Asked if the party defended Sibal’s media conference, she said: “Absolutely.”

Top sources said Sibal would not have taken up the issue without clearance from the Prime Minister and other key Congress managers. Sibal had also explained in detail that the priority of successive governments had been to “maximise welfare” for the telecom consumers, not maximise revenues for the state.

There is nothing wrong in the minister contesting the findings of the report if that becomes the basis of politics and a whole Parliament session is washed out only because of that, a Congress leader said.

“Everything was in the public domain. The Opposition built its entire campaign on the presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore pointed out by the CAG. The media had extensively reported it and the national political discourse revolved around that figure. The government is well within its right to dispute the figure if it thinks there is no basis for that calculation,” the senior leader said.

The party also pointed out that CAG reports in the past had been debated, dissected and rejected and no objections were raised at that time.

No government accepts the CAG’s findings. One example is the CAG report on “Coffingate” and other defence purchases during the NDA regime; while the Congress lapped it up, the BJP contested it.

Natrajan also contested PAC chairperson Murli Manohar Joshi’s claim that the committee members unanimously felt Sibal was wrong in confronting the CAG.

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