I feel ashamed about the chopper scam: Antony
A Joint Parliamentary Committee will probe the controversial chopper deal, with the government today asserting that there will be "no cover up" as it was determined to go to the root of the scam and give maximum punishment to the guilty.
The setting up of the 30-member JPC was decided through a government motion passed by the Rajya Sabha after a walkout by members of most of Opposition parties like BJP, JD(U), Trinamool Congress, CPI and AGP.
Moving the motion, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the JPC would submit its report within three months of its first sitting and rejected the Opposition contention that the decision would amount to putting the issue on the backburner.
He attacked the Opposition for walking out, saying they were "running away".
Earlier, the House saw a debate during which the opposition accused the government of inaction for over a year into the Rs 3,600 crore deal for 12 helicopters with AgustaWestland which has got into a controversy after allegations that kickbacks to the tune of Rs 362 crore were paid to bag it.
Replying to the debate, Defence Minister A K Antony asserted that there would be no "cover up" and the government was determined to go to the "root of the scam".
Insisting that there was no inaction on his part, he said he ordered the CBI probe as soon as reports came about the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, CEO of AgustaWestland's parent company Finmeccanica in Italy.
Noting that CBI has filed a Preliminary Enquiry and named 11 individuals, including former Air Chief S P Tyagi, Antony expressed confidence that the probe by the agency along with the one in Italy will bring out the truth.
"We have nothing to hide... We will not cover up, we will not be a party to cover-up. We will go to the root of the issue. Whoever is responsible will have to bear serious consequences," Antony said about the scam which unfolded earlier this month.
Revealing that he had "thought" of quitting after the scam broke, he promised the strongest action against the company if evidence points to wrongdoing.
"It is a matter of serious concern. We have to go to the root of the scam and punish the culprits because every pie that the government spends comes from tax payers. Whoever swindled public money, they have to be booked, they have to pay the price," he said, sharing concerns of the members who wanted to know the beneficiary of the kickbacks in India.
Besides the former Air Chief, his three cousins, former CEOs of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland and five others have been named as accused in the case. Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland and Indian companies IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix have also been named in the case.
"I want to know the truth, I will not run away. I want to punish the guilty... I must pursue this case and punish the guilty to the maximum extent, the Defence Minister said, adding "our track record is not cover up."
Asking the Opposition not to politicise the issue, he said "We thought to satisfy you and respect your sentiments, so we thought we can have JPC."
Hitting out at the Opposition members for seemingly "enjoying the scam", the senior Congress leader said, "as a public worker I feel ashamed... A scam is not to be enjoyed."
He said the Italian court hearing the case has refused to share details, saying the proceedings are at preliminary stage.
"At the preliminary stage of investigations, only the arrested persons and their lawyers can have access to documents," he said, adding "If they cite preliminary stage of inquiry, what can we do?"
After the secrecy clause is over, the Italian authorities will share information, he said.
Taking part in the debate, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said the JPC in the chopper scam was an "exercise in futility" and "diversionary tactic".
The noted lawyer contended that the case involved aspects such as extradition of accused foreigners and custodial interrogation and the JPC can have "none of these powers", leaving it ineffective.
Derek O'brien (TMC) said the JPC was a "political cover up" while Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U) said his party would agree for a JPC only if it was headed by the Leader of Opposition.
D Raja (CPI) asked the Government to defer the formation of JPC as many of the opposition parties had expressed their opposition to it.
Earlier, Antony said AgustaWestland has denied the charges against it in its reply to the show cause notice but the Defence Ministry "does not believe their reply".
He said two inquiries including one by Italian prosecutors and one by the CBI was going on and the opposition argument that Indian government was not acting was a "flawed one".
"Your argument is that we are not doing anything. Italian judiciary, independent of Italian government, are pursuing prosecution. Our investigation is a preliminary stage. They are in final stage, result of entire Italian inquiry will come now," the Minister said.
The Defence Minister said his Ministry's experience with the CBI inquiries was good as on basis of its investigations, a case was registered in the Ordnance Factory Board scam and six defence firms were blacklisted including four global defence firms.
"We blacklisted six firms including four powerful global firms. One of the firms has branches in 100 countries... We have shown no mercy and cancelled their contracts and blacklisted them for ten years," he said.
Narrating the sequence of events, the Minister said the process of acquiring the choppers was started 11 years ago in 1999 when an RFP was issued for eight VVIP choppers in which only one firm Eurocopter qualified.
He said after the then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister wrote in 2003 that requirements should be changed for the chopper to fly at 4,500 metre, a fresh tender was issued.