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India: Telecom Scandal Brings Parliament to Standstill

(Dec. 23, 2010) The most recent in a series of telecommunications scandals in India has brought the Parliament to a standstill. The scandal involves the licensing of the telecom spectrum for 2G (second generation) services in 2008. Former central government minister A. Raja disregarded warnings to use the auction mechanism and to conduct the licensing transparently and equitably in selling licenses worth $40 billion, as valued by India's Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), for a mere $2.8 billion. Raja is a member of the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) political party and headed the Department of Telecommunications under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology before being forced to resign on November 14, 2010, and the DMK formed a significant part of the coalition Government headed by the Congress.

In November 2010, the CAG issued an audit report on the sale, and the Supreme Court of India has sought an explanation from the government as to why it took 11 months for it to begin its inquiry to respond to a petition first filed in November 2008 by Subramaniam Swamy, President of the Janata Party. The petition was to prosecute Raja for the irregularities and for having sold the licenses on a first-come-first-serve basis in contravention of the relevant regulations. Emboldened by these developments, the opposition has stalled all parliamentary business since November 9, 2010, with a demand for the appointment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the matter.

The Speaker has tried to convene an all-party meeting to break the political impasse stalling the passage of key legislation, and the government has continued to reach out to the opposition for a solution. Thus far there has been no breakthrough in the situation. The opposition has indicated it is willing to conduct parliamentary business, but only after the Government agrees to the appointment of the investigatory JPC. (India's 2G Telecom Scandal Spans the Spectrum of Abuse, INDIA KNOWLEDGE WHARTON (Dec. 2, 2010),
; India Calls New Meeting over Parliamentary Impasses, NEWS CENTER (Nov. 28, 2010),