Thursday, February 24, 2011

Telco scandal to be investigated


India\'s prime minister has caved in to opposition demands and agreed to allow a parliamentary investigation into a telecommunications scandal that has reportedly cost the country billions of dollars.

In return, the opposition said it would end a filibuster that had paralysed the entire winter session of parliament and threatened to scuttle the crucial budget session that started Monday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had resisted the call for a parliamentary investigation for months, said the country could not afford to waste another session of parliament to opposition protests.

\'\'It is in this special circumstances that the government agreed to setting up a joint parliamentary committee,\'\' he told lawmakers.

India\'s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will present the 2011-2012 budget in parliament next week.

The Hindu nationalist opposition leader, Sushma Swaraj, welcomed Singh\'s decision and asked her party members to participate in the house proceedings.

The furore centred 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 ($NZ3.5 billion) and awarded some licenses 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 $US36 billion ($NZ47.9 billion) in potential revenue by not auctioning the licenses.

Authorities arrested India\'s former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja and two other officials and charged them with abusing their official positions to benefit some telecommunications companies. A Mumbai-based executive also has been arrested on accusation he was involved in the scandal.

In the last session, opposition lawmakers forced parliament to adjourn every day by running onto the floor, chanting anti-government slogans and demanding a parliamentary committee be formed to investigate the scandal.

The government had resisted, saying the Central Bureau of Investigation, India\'s federal investigating agency, already was looking into the scandal and the Supreme Court has been holding hearings on it.

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