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Indian lawmakers fight over $40B telecom scandal
Question of the Day
NEW DELHI | The parliament of the world's largest democracy has been deadlocked for nearly three weeks as Indian lawmakers have bickered over a probe of a $40 billion telecom scandal.
The opposition, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has brought regular proceedings to a standstill by demanding a joint parliamentary panel investigate the government's loss of $40 billion in a faulty cell-phone licensing deal.
The center-left coalition government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party, has nixed the BJP's calls for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe, prompting walk-outs and legislative delays.
Former Telecommunications Minister Andimuthu Raja resigned last month amid charges that his agency sold second-generation (2G) spectrum licenses at undervalued rates to cell phone service companies, costing the national treasury about $40 billion.
According to an auditor's report, the telecommunications deal was conducted in an "arbitrary, unfair" manner with several ineligible applicants. Some of the recipients resold their licenses for a profit.
All efforts for reconciliation by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Congress party's troubleshooter, have failed to convince the Opposition.
BJP parliamentary spokesman S.S. Ahluwalia said the opposition was ready "to cooperate but only after the government agreed to a JPC probe."
According to opposition BJP senior leader Lal Krishna Advani, the Indian government should ratify the U.N. Convention against Corruption.
"The country expects the government of India to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the string of scandals that have surfaced lately and punish all found guilty," Mr. Advani said.
The parliament for the winter session, which began Nov. 9 and is scheduled to end Dec .13, has an agenda that includes 23 bills up for debate and votes.
"The loss from the deadlock in the long run is into billions of dollars because bills are being passed [by the ruling group] without a debate. The errors of judgment in such passage can cause huge economic loss in future," said Mr. C V Madhukar, director of PRS Legislative Research, an independent research initiative that tracks the functioning of Parliament.
He noted that the Supplementary Demand for Grant, which enables government payments for various services during the current financial year, passed without any discussion because attention was focused on opposition protests.
"The immediate monetary loss from such nonfunctioning is miniscule compared to the loss that can run into billions and even impact on the country's GDP because of wrong policies and budgets passed," Mr. Madhukar said.
The Indian Parliament has about 790 members affiliated with more than 40 political parties.
Each member of parliament represents nearly 2 million citizens, and the lawmakers pass about 60 bills a year on average.
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