'Arrest of Congress middleman, scrap Scorpene deal'
New Delhi, Mar 22: Describing Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement on Scorpene deal as a 'high-level cover-up operation', the NDA today (Mar 22, 2006) demanded immediate arrest of Abhishek Verma, who was allegedly the middleman on behalf of the Congress, and scrapping of the Rs 18,789 crore deal.
Addressing a press conference in the Parliament premises, Leader of Opposition L K Advani and two former Defence Ministers -- George Fernandes and Jaswant Singh -- said the suo moto statement of Mr Mukherjee had vindicated the Opposition's charge about the presence of a middleman in the questionable deal.
''While three Defence officials have been dismissed, why are the civilians and foreigners involved in the deal were not even being questioned by the CBI,'' the leaders asked.
Demanding that a comprehensive and credible probe be instituted immediately to ascertain facts related to scandal and fix political responsibility, Mr Jaswant Singh said the government should clarify what it meant when it said that the NDA had 'cleared' the Scorpene deal in 2002 itself and the UPA only renegotiated it. ''If the government had cleared it in 2002, than why did the Cabinet Committee on Security and the UPA clear the project afresh?'' he asked.
Noting that the Ministry of Finance had not cleared the deal but there were three 'substantial observations' from the Ministry -- a situation that prevailed until May 2005-- he asked the government to submit all these files before a 'credible inquiry'.
Taking exception to Defence Minister taking shelter under the French denial of the purported e-mail, Mr Singh asked which e-mail was denied by French and which had existed.
''What is the view of the Government of India? Why use the French shield? To compensate for immunity defence ? This protective French sheath is unfortunately torn... it is faulty,'' he quipped.
Noting that the Court of Inquiry held by the Air Headquarters had establised that the pen drive recovered from a retired Naval Officer contained classified information pertaining to Directorate of Naval Operations, Mr Singh wanted to know how this had come about. ''How does the Air HQs have jurisdiction over a retired Naval officer? Under which provision of Law? There is something blatantly wrong. The Ministry Of Defence should state if the Intelligence Bureau was involved in the probe. Is the Government trying to hide something,'' he asked.
Stating that the navy's own Board of Inquiry had establised that there was leakage of information of 'commercial value to unauthorised persons,' he said the government had revealed no details.
''Who are these people and how has the leakage taken place,'' he asked, asking the government to come clean on the issue.
On the issue referred to the CBI, he wanted to know why the government was proceeding against the dismissed officers. ''What additional inputs has the government obtained after the officer's sacking in October-November 2005. Are these oficers sought to be punished twice for the same offence,'' he queried.
Asserting that he did not question the need to induct Scorpene in to Naval system, he said it was a ''very good'' submarine but he was only questioning the methodology of procurement, not the quality.
''The Bofors gun was very much needed for Indian forces but the question was the way it was inducted,'' he said, adding that it was also important to know what the CBI had done so far regarding the civilians and foreigners involved in the twin scandal.
Terming it 'astonishing' that the government was not even willing to name the civilians named in the 'War Room Leak' 10 months after the leak was first detected and five months after the Naval Officers were dismissed, Mr Singh wanted to know if the CBI had been furnished the names. ''Was the CBI given names or asked to proceed against anonymous persons ? A hint, perhaps a wink and nudge?'' he asked, adding that at least two of the three civilians -- Mr Abhishek Verma and Ravi Shankaran were allowed to travel to Liechensteni via Mauritius during the past 10 months. ''This leniency enables them to tamper with the evidence,'' he claimed.
He said while the Navy told the Delhi High Court that the information leaked was not only of classified nature but related to defence of the country and the leakage was prejudicial to the interests of the state and served to undermine the security of the nation, the Defence Minister was telling a news channel that there was no need to take action against the civilians because it was ''only commercial information.'' ''Leakage of commercial information was not treason,'' he said.
Mr Singh said that the NDA wanted to know what was the logic behind declaring the information retrieved from the pen drive recovered from Kulbhushan Parashar pertaining to Directorate of Naval Operations as ''commercial information and not classified information.'' ''Mr Mukherjee was silent on the elaborate investigations conducted by the IB and the agencies of Navy and IAF which had all established Mr Parashar's links with Mr Verma, Ravi Shankaran and certain foreigners. This is the reason we insist on identity of civilians and foreigners involved,'' he said.