India telecom scandal paralyzes parliament session

Associated Press
India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani, center, holds a placard demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the telecom scandal as he stands with others during a protest outside the Indian parliament in New Delhi, India, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010. The four-week winter session of India's parliament ended Monday without conducting any legislative business, paralyzed throughout by an angry opposition demanding a probe into a telecommunications scandal that cost the country billions. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani, center, holds a placard demanding …

India's parliament ended its paralyzed winter session Monday after four weeks that were largely devoid of work but filled with raucous opposition demands for an investigation into a telecom scandal that cost the country billions.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has rejected the opposition's demand because the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's federal investigating agency, already is looking into the scandal and the Supreme Court has been holding hearings on it.

Each sitting, noisy opposition lawmakers spilled onto the floor of parliament, chanted anti-government slogans and demanded a parliamentary committee be formed to investigate. The speaker then adjourned proceedings until the next day, hoping for a resolution.

The furor centered on the 2008 sale of second-generation, or 2G, cellular licenses in a bewildering "first-come, first-served" process that netted India only 124 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) and awarded some license to ineligible participants who in turn sold their stakes at a high premium. The state auditor general reported last month the government lost as much as $36 billion in potential revenue by not auctioning the licenses.

The leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party was unapologetic Monday for the impasse.

Sometimes blocking legislative action "also yields results," Lal Krishna Advani said. He apparently was referring to the fact that even members of the Singh government have backed the opposition demand, in an embarrassment for the prime minister.

Legislation that parliament didn't address before its two-month recess involved issues such as banking, prisoners, teaching, a raging Maoist insurgency and sexual harassment. Only crucial spending bills were approved, but by voice vote rather than full debate.

The opposition wants a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate because it would have the power to call Cabinet members to testify, and opposition lawmakers say they don't trust the government to conduct a proper investigation of its own bungled licensing process.

Singh refused to budge, saying such a committee can do nothing more than the existing mechanisms.

"I am worried about the future of the parliamentary system in the country. I hope reason will prevail," he told reporters over the weekend.

The scandal already has forced the resignation of then-Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court has been holding hearings on what went wrong and is expected to rule within weeks.

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