The government on Wednesday had its way. It went ahead with its decision to have a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the controversial VVIP chopper scam. The Rajya Sabha adopted a motion in the evening constituting a JPC to investigate the AgustaWestland deal amid a walkout by members of the principal opposition party, the BJP, and the Trinamool Congress.
The BJP said it did not want such a joint committee because its probe would be futile. It demanded an immediate FIR against suspects in the scam and a strong CBI probe, preferably under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Arguing strongly against yet another JPC, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, said it would be a pointless exercise because MPs wouldn’t be able to uncover anything new.
Jaitley said if the government really had the intention to unravel this scam, it should ask the CBI to get going with the investigation even without the cooperation of the Italian or British authorities.
According to him, a JPC probe into the chopper scam will make sense only if the chosen committee is headed by a member of the opposition – a situation that the ruling party will not allow.
Moving the motion on a JPC probe, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said that in the past, the Congress has been accused of stalling the demand for JPCs. Now, it is under fire for voluntarily offering one. He said on the 2G scam, the opposition had made an issue of a JPC not being constituted even as a probe was being conducted by premier investigating agencies, including the CBI.
Earlier, participating in the debate, defence minister AK Antony virtually staked his reputation as he promised that there wouldn’t be any cover-up under any circumstance. He said two investigations are going on at a parallel level — one in Italy and the other in India. He argued that the present CBI inquiry is of a preliminary nature and once the authorities in Italy agree to be more forthcoming, the Indian probe will definitely gather momentum.
Antony said any scam is a matter of shame. Responding to opposition criticism that he had sat on mounting allegations and had done nothing to inquire into them, he gave dates when he had forwarded his queries to the CBI and to the ministry of external affairs. He pointed out how the refusal of the Italian prosecutors, the judiciary and the other authorities to hand over relevant papers had delayed the probe. He repeatedly assured a strong BJP lineup of speakers that he will get to the bottom of the scandal. “Nobody would be spared,” he said.
Jaitley, who rose to speak after Antony had finished delivering his response, did not buy the defence minister’s argument. He said it is a strange situation when the names of the bribe-givers and the middlemen as well as the amount paid are known; the only thing that remains to be known is the name of the recipient. Had a serious investigation been carried out since February 2012, the government would have easily found out the truth, he added.
He pointed out that the money had reached Indian shores via Tunisia and Mauritius. It was easy to use these leads for an investigation agency to unearth the entire story. If the government was really interested in getting to the bottom of the entire murky business, it could have done so long ago, he alleged.