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JPC to probe copter deal, BJP walks out

- Antony vows to go after culprits, Opposition says they may have already covered tracks

New Delhi, Feb. 27: The government today pushed through the Rajya Sabha a decision to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the charges of kickbacks in the Rs 3,546-crore AgustaWestland contract for 12 VVIP helicopters amid an uproar and walkout by some Opposition parties.

In an uncanny re-run of the making of the JPC that went into the $ 1.4 billion Bofors deal in 1987, this time too the Opposition has decided to boycott the parliamentary panel. The JPC that went into the Bofors pay-offs was headed by B. Shankaranand and comprised mostly members of the ruling Congress and its allies.

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, articulated the reason for the walkout: a JPC would not have adequate investigative and enforcement powers.

Most Opposition parties demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe by the CBI into the bribery case, which is being investigated at present in Italy. Jaitley, supported by ally Janata Dal (United), even challenged the government to have a JPC constituted under leadership of an Opposition MP.

Jaitley termed the JPC a “façade” and demanded registration of an FIR, the tracking of the money trail and interrogation and arrests, if the government wanted to “get to the truth”. A JPC will not achieve anything, he argued.

Defence minister A.K. Antony, who has not faced such Opposition ire through his tenure, was emphatic that he will go after the middlemen but he was barely able to refute the charge made by Jaitley that he took so much time ordering an investigation that the culprits may have covered their tracks.

The BJP had called for a discussion today in the Upper House on the Euro 51 million kickbacks in the VVIP helicopter deal that was initiated in 1999 during the NDA regime.

Antony and parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath had their arguments ready in favour of the government decision. Antony said the CBI was conducting an inquiry here while the Italian government was also conducting an investigation into the kickbacks. Kamal Nath said after the BJP walked out that those who were doing so were the same NDA allies who had not let Parliament function by demanding a JPC into the 2G case.

The resolution to constitute the 30-member (10 RS, 20 LS) JPC was passed by voice vote in the absence of the BJP, JD(U), Trinamul Congress, the Left parties, AIADMK, Asom Gana Parishad, Biju Janata Dal and the Telugu Desam Party.

Earlier, Trinamul member Sukhendu Sekhar Roy even asked Antony to resign, citing Lal Bahadur Shastri’s decision to step down as railway minister after a rail mishap in 1956. Incidentally, CPM member T.K Rangarajan, who wanted a SC-monitored CBI probe, has been included in the JPC.

Samajwadi Party and BSP members, who support the UPA, tempered their criticism and voted in favour.