Agusta row disrupts Rajya Sabha, TMC member banished for day

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Monday saw repeated disruptions over the AgustaWestland chopper deal bribery issue with the government and opposition Congress engaging in a verbal spat inside and outside Parliament House.

The Congress, which has higher numbers than the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Rajya Sabha, countered the BJP's charge on the chopper scam by raising the issue of mismanagement in the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC), pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), during the time Narendra Modi was Gujarat chief minister.

The Bharatiya Janata Party termed it an attempt to divert attention from the AgustaWestland payoffs for securing the India deal for 14 VVIP helicopters during the UPA's tenure, leading to repeated adjournments.

The upper house also saw a Trinamool Congress member being banished from the house for a day for disrupting question hour, as he repeatedly asked who were the beneficiaries in the chopper deal bribe taking. The issue was, however, not raised in the Lok Sabha, where the Congress has only 44 members in the 545-member house.

As soon as Rajya Sabha met, the Congress sought a discussion on the GSPC issue. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said it could not be taken up as the matter is related to the state assembly.

The Congress quoted a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report pointing to anomalies in the GSPC's KG (Krishna-Godavari) Basin gas project. The CAG report said the "future prospects" of the KG block project, in which Rs.19,576 crore were invested, remains shrouded in "uncertainty".

Immediately after the Congress raised the issue, TMC member Sukhendu Sekhar Roy demanded that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar should inform the house about the beneficiaries of bribes in the AgustaWestland chopper deal. A ruckus followed, with the Congress protesting, forcing five adjournments through the day.

Both zero hour and question hour were stalled, and an angry Chairman M. Hamid Ansari in a stern action banished Roy from the house for the day for repeatedly raising the chopper deal issue, and disrupting the house ignoring the chair's request.

Roy, who was standing at his seat during question hour, kept repeatedly asking who were "Gandhi and AP" -- mentioned in the judgments by the Milan court that gave jail terms to Finmeccanica's former CEO Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-head Bruno Spagnolini.

When he refused to sit down despite repeated instructions from the chair, Ansari decided to invoke Rule 255, and asked the member to withdraw from the house for the day. Other TMC members protested, and staged a walkout soon after, boycotting the proceedings through the day.

BJP's Naqvi accused the Congress of adopting "diversionary tactics" to take away attention from the VVIP chopper scam by raising the GSPC issue. "This is a diversionary tactic, to take away attention from AgustaWestland and create ruckus through such non-issues," Naqvi said.

The issue continued to simmer in the parliament galleries, as ruling and opposition party members blamed either side for disrupting the functioning of the ongoing parliament session by politicising and raking up the AgustaWestland chopper scam issue.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government wants to bring out the facts related to the chopper deal so that people get to know the truth. "This issue should not be politicised. Facts must be brought to the fore and people must get to know the truth," Naidu said outside parliament.

On the other hand, the Congress accused the BJP of using the AgustaWestland issue to defame it so that the BJP could take advantage of it in the ongoing assembly polls.

"Had we been scared, we would not have issued a CBI inquiry. Because we had involved the CBI in the investigation, this shows our government was serious to bring out the facts," Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said.

"What this government is doing is politically motivated," he added. The AgustaWestland issue is to be discussed in parliament on Wednesday, and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said he will give a detailed statement on the issue.

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