Burying the truth

Burying the truth

JPC on chopper deal

The Union government took the initiative for the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the $748 million (Rs 4,040 crore by today’s exchange rate) VVIP chopper deal though most of the opposition parties have opposed it. The alleged scam touched off storm in India when the Italian police took into custody the head of defence group of Finmeccanica on February 12 on a warrant alleging that he greased palm to wangle the Indian contract.

According to the prosecution, chief executive and chairman Guiseppe Orsi of the company paid bribes to intermediaries to clinch the sale of 12 helicopters in a euro 560 million deal when he was the head of the group’s AugustaWestland unit. Italian prosecutors allege that the company -- Anglo-Italian firm Augusta Westland -- paid kickbacks to the tune of euro 51 millions (Rs 370 crore).

Amid protests and walk outs by the entire opposition, the government moved a motion in the Rajya Sabha for the setting up of a JPC which was adopted by a voice vote. The BJP has dubbed it as ‘a diversionary tactic’ and ‘an exercise to bury the truth’ since it would not have any powers to interrogate, search any premises or extradite anybody involved in the scam. The others including the BJD, JD(U), AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, and the Left parties are equally vitriolic in their opposition to the JPC and are demanding that the Supreme Court should monitor the CBI investigation going into it. However, the government feels that the JPC can also monitor the investigation. So, the bone of contention is whether the CBI investigation should be monitored by the Supreme Court or by the JPC.

The ideal situation is that the police should have total autonomy in investigation. Even the monitoring or interference by the court during investigation is not a healthy practice. The ruling of the Privy Council pronounced in Najir Mohammed vs King Emperor (1936) still holds good that no interference in the police investigation should be brooked. The court has every right, and is rather duty bound, to question and arraign the police once the chargesheet is filed, but not before that. The monitoring by the court has not yielded results all the time as is evident from the collapse of the Hawala case. However, it is also a hard fact that some cases would not have reached their logical conclusion without the monitoring of the court. The CBI has filed the chargesheet in the helicopter scam and has differed with the government in the coal blocks allocation case.

The opposition does not appear in a mood to join the JPC. If the opposition does not relent and finally boycotts it, the JPC will be ineffective and less credible as happened when the first JPC was constituted to probe the Bofors scam. Then defence minister K C Pant moved a motion in this regard in Parliament. The opposition parties boycotted the committee on the ground that it was packed with Congress members. The JPC, headed by B Shankaranand submitted the report which was merely a whitewash job.

Investigate irregularities

 The second JPC, headed by senior Congress leader Ram Niwas Mirdha, was set up in 1992 to investigate the irregularities in Securities and Banking Transactions in the aftermath of the Harshad Mehta scandal. Its recommendations were neither accepted in full nor implemented. The third JPC was set up in 2001 with the mandate to unravel the stock market scam. The committee recommended sweeping changes in the stock market regulations. However, most of these recommendations were diluted subsequently. The fourth JPC was set up in August 2003 to look into pesticide residues in soft drinks, fruit juice and other beverages and to set safety standards. Its report confirmed the presence of pesticide residues in soft drinks and recommended stringent norms for drinking water. The fifth JPC was constituted in February 2011 to probe the 2G scam which is still to give its report. It was formed only after the entire winter session of Parliament was washed out on this demand.

  Committees of the legislature can be extremely effective in checkmating the executive from going haywire  if they exercises due diligence. JPC can be even more effective as it is subject specific. In the chopper deal it is almost established that money changed hands under the table. Prosecutors in the northern Italian town of Busto Arsizio, near AugustaWestland’s headquarters, alleged that former chief executive Giuseppe Orsi hired US-born Guido Ralph Haschke, then a consultant with the Finmeccanica group, to clinch the deal in India. The opposition wants to know who got the money. Surprisingly, the government says that it also wants to know the same thing. But the government has a bigger responsibility and is morally responsible for every act of omission and commission.

The alleged involvement of the then Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi in the helicopter scam is deeply disturbing. If the highest authorities assigned the duty to safeguard the security of the country can tweak conditions of the deal to benefit a particular company for some consideration, it debunks the system obtaining and puts a big question mark on the security system of the country. So, it is to safeguard the security of the country that the truth must come out. It may be that the quality was not compromised and still kickbacks was paid as happened in Bofors whose efficacy was proved during the Kargil war. But payment of such huge bribery is totally unacceptable and defence minister A K Antony who is known for probity should find a way to bring in transparency in defence deals.