Monday, August 14, 2017

Congress MPs fight over Bofors, wants PAC to take up 'coffin scam' of NDA regime

The Bofors gun kickback controversy almost sparked off a major row - albeit politically- in the Congress party when senior Members of Parliament clashed among themselves on the powers vis-a-vis Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
To take the battle to the BJP-led NDA camp, the Congress is now planning to rake up the alleged 'coffin purchase' scam during Kargil conflict of 1999 when George Fernandes was at the helm of affairs in the Defence ministry.  "The CAG report in 2004-05 found fault with the NDA government on purchase of funeral caskets. Around 500 caskets worth $2500 each were purchased and each cost was thirteen times the original amount," a senior Congress leader said. 

The source maintained that the Public Accounts Committee and the sub-committee headed by Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab should also examine the purchase made during 'Operation Vijay' in 1999. Meanwhile, BJP sources said, with regard the coffin purchase scam - a special CBI court found no evidence and discharged the accused.According to sources, deputy Leader of the Opposition (Rajya Sabha) Anand Sharma took exceptions on why PAC headed by a Congress MP could rake up the high-voltage Bofors gun deal controversy "from the dustbin of history".

"It was a closed chapter. The High Court had ruled its closure in 2005, how PAC can raise Bofors again giving it a fresh life," Mr Sharma told some party leaders.
The incumbent PAC chairman Mallikarjun Kharge too was "definitely" not happy and tried to suggest that he could not be blamed for the flip-flop if any, "as I (Kharge) took over the charge of PAC as chairman only recently in the new financial year 2017-18".
The Rajya Sabha members also maintained that even summoning the CBI chief Alok Verma was "erroneous". "Only a panel like the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice can summon the CBI chief," another member said.
A few Lok Sabha Members in Congress apparently did not agree to the argument from their party colleagues in the Upper House.
The former PAC Chairman KV Thomas maintained that he could not be "blamed" as the decision to examine the non-compliance of the CAG reports including the Ministry of Defence was taken long back. 
In fact, the decision was taken by the PAC in the last Lok Sabha....the PAC under me only carried it forward. Moreover, in 2015 a conference of PAC chairpersons in Delhi attended by many PAC chairpersons belonging to Congress had insisted that this non-compliance was a serious lapse, Mr Thomas reportedly said.

In October 2015, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice TS Thakur had absolved the NDA regime led by Atal Biehari Vajpayee after the CBI informed that it could not establish the guilt of the accused persons in the Rs 24,000-crore coffin purchase scam. 
A six-member sub-committee headed by Biju Janata Dal member Bhartruhari Mahtab and comprising among others Gajanan Chandrakant Kirtikar (Shiv Sena), Nishikant Dubey (BJP), P Venugopal (AIZADMK), Ajay Sancheti (BJP) and Shivkumar Chanabasappa Udasi (BJP) felt that there was non-compliance of the CAG report on Defence Ministry and also that probe on Bofors scam of 1980s was not satisfactory.

Even CBI Director Alok Verma was summoned by the sub-committee and Mr verma told the panel that in 2005, the probe agency wanted to challenge the High Court order but was disallowed by the Law ministry under the then Manmohan Singh government to go to the Supreme Court.
The sub-committee has reportedly noticed "systemic failures" in the contract signed with Bofors and said the panel wants to pursue its work of looking into non-compliance of certain aspects of the Comptroller and Auditor General or the CAG report of 1986 on the Bofors howitzer gun deal.
"The PAC sub-panel is meeting in Delhi on August 16 and is likely to examine the letter from the CBI director....It will unravel some secrets," a BJP source claimed.
Last month, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi has expressed her unhappiness on how the high-voltage controversial Bofors gun deal scandal was allowed to return to the political discourse yet again. 

Number of Congress leaders have only blamed the BJP lawmaker Nishikant Dubey for blowing it up.
By convention the 22-member PAC is headed by an opposition leader as Chairman and in the present Lok Sabha, K V Thomas, Congress MP from Kerala, has been the chairman for three years while for 2017-18, party has nominated Mallikarjun Kharge for the post.

BJP Members Stunned

Some kind of unthinkable has happened. At least this is how a few BJP leaders
have reacted. The Defence Ministry under Narendra Modi government has requested the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) sub-committee to "delete" controversial paragraphs related to Bofors Howitzer Gun deal.
The official response of the Defence Ministry in a 13 July letter has said as the files related to Bofors cannot be traced, the eight paras related to objections raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India  and subsequently by the PAC sub-committee on non-compliance of the CAG report be "deleted". 
According to sources, this is not the first time the Defence Ministry has given such response. 
In fact, the defence ministry's response has left members of the PAC sub-committee "stunned". "These responses may not have political endorsement. Possibly BJP MPs would be meeting Defence Minister Arun Jaitley to find how these responses from the ministry came to the PAC panel," a source told UNI.
In January 28, 2016 letter earlier - the Defence Ministry had told the PAC sub-committee headed by Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab -- that papers related to Bofors gun purchase were "not available with any division". It had also mentioned that directorate general administration in Defence Ministry has agreed to "delete" the paragraphs.

Similarly, in May 5, 2017 communique the Ministry informed the panel that "it is not possible to initiate Action Taken Reports" vis-a-vis the CAG reports -- otherwise pending since 1990.


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