| George Fernandes and Buta Singh
New Delhi, Aug. 13: George Fernandes tried to strike a give-and-take deal last July to part with the Central Vigilance Commission’s “secret” report on defence purchases, sources in the Public Accounts Committee allege.
The defence minister is said to have told PAC chairman Buta Singh he would hand him the report if the Congress withdrew the Opposition’s boycott of him in Parliament.
The claim of the sources is likely to add fuel to the fire over the Opposition demand to hand the report to the PAC so it can place its findings on the purchase of military stores for the 1999 Kargil war. Cash was allegedly made in the purchase of aluminium caskets to transport the army’s dead at the time.
The Centre’s refusal has prompted the Opposition to stall Parliament. After the Lok Sabha was adjourned without conducting any business today, Speaker Manohar Joshi tried to crack the stalemate by calling an all-party meeting tomorrow where, he said, he would urge the Opposition to allow Fernandes to make a statement.
PAC sources said the deal was sought to be struck on July 3, shortly after Fernandes met Singh at a meeting convened by the Speaker.
Singh, the Congress MP from Jalore, Rajasthan, refused to bite the bait. He said Fernandes should directly approach the Congress, the sources added.
Fernandes was unavailable for comment when his office was called. A fax message, too, went unanswered.
The Opposition has been boycotting Fernandes for 19 months, since his return to the cabinet before the Venkataswami Commission, probing the Tehelka arms scandal, could complete its inquiry. Joshi had been trying to end the standoff by arranging meetings of Opposition leaders to thrash out the issue.
The sources also ridiculed the plan allegedly hatched by the BJP and Fernandes to get all the 13 NDA panel members to write to the Speaker detaching themselves from the committee’s report. They said “it (the dissociation move) is belated and an afterthought” as the report was “unanimous”.
“Of the 22 members (of the PAC), 19 were present while three were out of Delhi when the report was read out (as is the custom),” a source said.
Singh put the proposition up for adoption, the source said. “Any (panel) member who wants to make a suggestion is free to do so. And only Kirit Somaiya of the BJP said ‘I have two or three suggestions’.”
“The committee discussed Somaiya’s suggestions and accepted and incorporated them in the report, which was again read out. Somaiya was happy and said the report was now ‘unanimous’,” the source said.
But last week, Somaiya alleged that he was not shown the final report.
Only Mohan Rawale of the Shiv Sena had not put his signature to the report, though he was present. He reportedly said that he agreed with the report but wanted to remain absent. “He was not sure about his leader Bal Thackeray’s reaction,” the source said.
The bid to get members to challenge unanimity is “highly immoral and against democratic norms and procedures and rules of Parliament”, a PAC source said. The source added that all the panel’s reports had been unanimous and no dissent was recorded as a rule.
On Friday, Fernandes had said the vigilance commission had not gone into the coffin deal.
On Tuesday, the Centre iterated its stand not to part with the vigilance report after a meeting of BJP leaders chaired by the Prime Minister. BJP’s V.K. Malhotra said: “There is no such CVC report on Operation Vijay (code name for the Kargil war).”
Fernandes has claimed “the report has been labelled top secret by the Central Vigilance Commission and (so) we cannot part with it”.
“There is nothing more to it.”
Today, in the Rajya Sabha, chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat rejected the Opposition’s demand for the Prime Minister to make a statement.