Thursday, Aug 07, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
"The committee is surprised that such a vital document which was considered essential for scrutiny of these procurements has been withheld from them on grounds of secrecy,'' noted the report tabled in Parliament today.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members protested in both Houses against the tabling of the report and leaking of the report's contents to a TV channel before it was placed in Parliament. In the Lok Sabha, Kirit Somayya (BJP) first objected to its tabling on a technicality and V.K. Malhotra (BJP) raised a privilege issue as its contents had been leaked to the press before it became a property of the House.
Calm was restored only with the Speaker, Manohar Joshi, ruling that, "if any member in the committee has gone to a television studio with the report, you can bring a privilege notice against him''.
A similar situation arose in the Rajya Sabha where the issue was raised by S.S. Ahluwalia (BJP) and the Rajya Sabha Chairman, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, assured the members that he would look into charges of breach of Parliamentary privilege.
The CAG report had noted that existing procedures were relaxed to quickly obtain replenishment for the Kargil conflict (Operation Vijay). But only Rs. 25 crores worth of ammunition was received on time and supplies valued at Rs. 2,150 crores were received or contracted well after the cessation of hostilities and "therefore in no way supported the operations''.
In 35 cases detailed in the report, relaxation of rules led to the Government "knowingly'' paying more for certain items, procuring ammunition that was being produced by government ordnance factories, "being saddled with'' expired ammunition and supplies failing to meet qualitative standards.
It was in late 2001 that the PAC took up the entire report for a detailed examination and called for the CVC report on major defence deals since 1989. But the Defence Ministry refused to forward the report to the PAC as "it would be prejudicial to the interest of the state".
The CAG supported the PAC by stating that "mere secrecy ought not to be taken as a plea and the Ministry should attribute plausible reasons''. The CAG also noted that an anomalous situation had arisen where findings of CAG have been made public whereas `secrecy' has been claimed for the CVC's findings.
The PAC also objected to the Defence Minister releasing documents to a journalist on the purchase of coffins while stonewalling its pleas. Two meetings convened by the Lok Sabha Speaker failed to break the stalemate between the PAC and the Defence Minister and as late as April 23, another attempt was made with the PAC asking the Defence Secretary whether the Ministry adhered to the same view.
"The Defence Secretary replied in the affirmative,'' noted the PAC report. This reiteration forced the PAC to take the rare recourse of declining to give its findings.
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