Parliamentary probe sought into CWG graft, tax sleuths quiz Darbari


New Delhi: An angry opposition Monday sought a parliamentary probe into allegations of corruption in the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, an issue that generated much heat in the Lok Sabha on a day tax sleuths questioned suspended organising committee joint director general T.S. Darbari on financial irregularities in the panel.

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With Sports Minister M.S. Gill set to reply Tuesday to the Lok Sabha debate, the government found itself on the back foot with key ally Trinamool Congress calling for a statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.

The Games imbroglio, taken up by the Lok Sabha as a short duration discussion, began midway through the pre-lunch session and took up all of the post-lunch session, with the house sitting for 45 minutes beyond its usual rising at 6 p.m.

On predictable lines, the opposition went hammer and tongs against the preparations for the Games, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into allegations of graft and the government launching a spirited defence through Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy and Manish Tiwari, who is also the Congress spokesperson.

Intervening in the debate, Jaipal Reddy expressed confidence that India would host “the best ever” Commonwealth Games, adding that allegations of misappropriation of funds were “preliminary observations” and shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.

“What we need today is the complete focus (on conducting the event) cutting across all party lines and focus on to deliver, good, if not spectacular (games),” Reddy maintained.

“I can say with confidence that we will be staging the best Commonwealth Games ever,” he added.

Tiwari was at pains to refute the figure of Rs.1 lakh crore that the opposition charged was being spent on the Games, saying the figure was close to RS.11,498 crore.

In all this, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, the second largest party in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) sprang a surprise of sorts when it said it “will be satisfied” if Manmohan Singh makes a statement in the Lok Sabha that “anybody found guilty of Commonwealth Games corruption will not be spared”.

Initiating the discussion former cricketer Kirti Azad of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Commonwealth Games scam. Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supported the demand.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav said that even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was upset over the alleged graft in the Games preparations.

“Even the queen is upset about it,” Yadav said, eliciting an immediate response from Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal.

“The queen has written a letter appreciating the preparations. You can say what your opinion is but don’t comment on the queen,” Bansal said.

The Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CGOC) is alleged to have paid AM Films, an Indian-owned firm in London, over 450,000 pounds for services during last year’s Queen’s Baton Relay inaugural without proper tendering and paperwork.

Two aides of CGOC chief Suresh Kalmadi, among them T.S. Darbari, were suspended after an enquiry found that an e-mail from the Indian High Commission in London on the basis of which the firm was hired were tampered with.

This apart, CGOC treasurer Anil Khanna quit in the wake of allegations that his son’s firm was unduly favoured in ordering the synthetic turf for the tennis stadium for the Games.

Audit watchdog Comptroller and Auditor General of India has also commented adversely on the cost overruns for the stadia being built or refurbished for the Games.

Darbari, sources said, was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to explain certain financial transactions undertaken during the Queen’s Baton Relay. The ED has registered a case under Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) on this.

Darbari, the sources said, denied his role in any of the irregularities.

Some other officials of the Games organising committee and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) could also be questioned, the sources added.