Ministers, not group, to scan scams

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By OUR BUREAU in Delhi
  • Published 30.10.04

New Delhi, Sept. 30: A day after the BJP threatened to stall the winter session of Parliament if the United Progressive Alliance pursued an ?agenda of vendetta?, the Centre seems to have taken a step backward.

Sources in the government have denied that a Group of Ministers was constituted to revisit the allegations of corruption that the Congress had levelled against the NDA.

They, however, added that individual ministers were told they were free to conduct inquiries they deemed necessary.

There were reports in a section of the media that a group of Congress ministers, headed by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, would look into a host of cases, including the purchase of AK-47 rifles by the home ministry and the coffin scam during the Kargil conflict, which allegedly implicated .K. Advani and George Fernandes.

The ?informal? group, which included HRD minister Arjun Singh, home minister Shivraj Patil, urban development minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and science and technology minister Kapil Sibal, is believed to have held its first meeting when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was away in the US.

A PMO official dismissed the reports as ?pure nonsense?.

Sources, however, stressed that the denial did not mean that the ?skeletons? in the NDA?s cupboard would be mothballed and put away. They said some of the cases highlighted by the Congress during its campaign against the NDA government would be pursued to their ?logical? end.

For starters, Azad has launched a departmental probe, headed by former bureaucrat Yogesh Chandra, into prime plots allegedly given away by the NDA government at throwaway prices to the RSS, VHP and other parivar affiliates.

The ?chargesheet? claimed that a small constituent like the Samarth Shiksha Samiti got land in seven prime areas in less than three years. The RSS? front for small industries, Laghu Udyog Bharti, whose patron, the Congress said, is sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, was reportedly allotted 571 square yards in a prized area of the capital.

The rural development ministry, on the other hand, is believed to have started a probe into how Andhra Pradesh was sanctioned Rs 190 crore ? Rs 100 crore more than the budgetary allocation of Rs 90 crore ? every year from 2000 to 2003 for various rural development schemes when BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu was minister.

Other alleged NDA misdemeanours that could come under the UPA scanner are:

• ?Misuse? of the Kargil cess

• ?Irregularities? in purchases during the Kargil war

• The UTI and Cyberspace Infosys Ltd scam that took place when Yashwant Sinha was finance minister. Cyberspace, a relatively nondescript IT company based in Lucknow, was ?promoted? in a big way by UTI, which reportedly purchased nearly four lakh shares at Rs 930 per share. But in a few months, the share price plummeted to a rupee each. The promoters were reportedly connected to the RSS

• Allotment of petrol pumps and gas agencies to members of the Sangh parivar.

While the Congress sought to downplay reports of a formal inquiry, spokesperson Anand Sharma said: ?If the BJP is sure that its leaders had not done anything wrong, it should not worry about any minister in the UPA government looking into the records.?