Sibal replaces Raja as Telecom Minister; Parliament logjam continues

Parliament remained stalled on Monday with the opposition demanding a JPC probe into 2G spectrum scam.

New Delhi: Parliament was stalled again on Monday with the opposition firm on its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into alleged corruption in the 2G spectrum allotment that forced DMK leader A Raja to quit as Communications and IT minister. The government rejected the demand with a resolute no.

The government had hoped Raja`s ouster would calm the situation, but that was not so with the opposition clamouring for a JPC probe in both Houses that were adjourned till Tuesday.

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal was meanwhile given the additional charge of the Telecom Ministry in an indication that an early reshuffle or expansion of the Union Council of Ministers may be unlikely.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave the Telecom portfolio, from which controversial A Raja resigned last night, to Sibal in a move that takes away the ministry from the DMK at least for the time being.

The arrangement is seen to be temporary in view of the ongoing Parliament session when issues related to the ministry are to be handled at the senior level, particularly when allegations of corruption in 2G spectrum allocation have erupted.

In Parliament, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar adjourned the Lok Sabha as BJP MPs, joined by AIADMK members, chanted: "We want JPC!" -- that would look into the alleged scam that is said to have caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the national exchequer.

The Speaker first tried to convince the protesting MPs, who had reassembled following a three-day holiday and two days of adjournment, to allow the Question Hour. As the slogan shouting continued, she tried to ignore the noisy protests and ordered that the questions listed for the day be raised.

However, as the noise grew, the Speaker adjourned the House till noon just five minutes after it resumed at 11.00 am.

High drama prevailed when the MPs met again at 12.00 noon. As opposition MPs gathered near the Speaker`s podium, the government rushed through seven papers and two reports that were tabled in a span of less than 10 minutes.

The 10 minutes of business also included a Bill by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee seeking an approval from Parliament for an additional expenditure of nearly Rs 45,000 crores during the current year.

Home Minister P Chidambaram withdrew a controversial Bill seeking amendment to act on property left behind those who migrated to Pakistan in 1947. Amid the din, the Home Minister introduced another bill, Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Bill, 2010, for change in the 1968 legislation governing such properties.

Though the noise drowned him and the ministers out, Deputy Speaker Karia Munda, who was presiding over the house at the time, even held a necessary voice vote over the three important Bills.

In the Rajya Sabha, the scene was no different, forcing Chairman Hamid Ansari to adjourn the Upper House till 12 noon after similar protests. With no respite from the din, Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan adjourned the House for the day within five minutes after it met a second time.

As chaos reigned in Parliament, Finance Minister Mukherjee and Home Minister Chidambaram rejected the opposition demand for a JPC inquiry.

The two ministers said a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India would be tabled in Parliament soon and the matter would be looked into by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that is headed by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.

"No question of having a JPC. After being tabled in House, it (CAG report) goes to Public Accounts Committee (PAC). That is constitutional provision and nobody can alter it," Mukherjee, who is also leader of the Lok Sabha, told reporters.

An angry Mukherjee said the opposition demand for a JPC were "their pleas to disrupt the House".

Mukherjee is likely to meet leaders of opposition parties Tuesday morning to break the logjam.

Chidambaram said the demand for a JPC probe is "is completely meaningless".

The CAG report alleges that the 2G spectrum scam caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer and pins the blame on DMK leader Raja who was forced to quit Sunday.

The CAG submitted the document last week and as per procedure it will go to the President`s office before becoming Parliament`s property.

The procedure normally takes 15 days.

The BJP said a PAC probe cannot be equalled to that of a JPC investigation.

"There is a huge difference in the probe by a PAC and a probe by a JPC. JPCs have been formed earlier as well and decisions have been taken based on its recommendations," BJP member Chandan Mitra said.

Parliament has had only one full day of business in the winter session so far. Since Wednesday onwards, both Houses have been witnessing continuous disruptions amid a relentless campaign by the opposition against Raja and the 2G spectrum licensing issue.