Defence Minister George Fernandes is once again in the eye of a storm and could become a subject of censure by the privileges committee.
The public accounts committee of Parliament, which has members drawn from several parties including many constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, refused to give its findings on the irregularities in arms purchases for operations in Kargil, code named Operation Vijay, because the defence ministry was unable to provide to the committee classified information including the report of the Central Vigilance Commission.
"In the face of refusal by the defence ministry in supplying the CVC report, the committee regrets its inability to give its findings on the defence procurement transactions reported in the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report on review of procurement for the Operation Vijay," committee chairman Buta Singh said in his 54th report, tabled in Parliament today.
The report was tabled in the two Houses amid din as Bharatiya Janata Party members protested in the Rajya Sabha that the report had been leaked even before it was placed in Parliament.
It may be recalled that in the wake of several arms scandals, Fernandes had laid bare all the files in the defence ministry for the scrutiny of the central vigilance commission.
The PAC is now demanding the same right and has expressed its resentment that the document should be withheld from them on the grounds of secrecy.
The PAC described "anomalous" the situation that while findings of the CAG on arms purchases were made public, secrecy was claimed by the defence ministry under procedures and conduct of the business of the House to withhold the CVC report.
The PAC said the ministry had refused to provide the CVC report to it on the plea that it was based on "secret and top secret documents" and "therefore it would be prejudicial to the interest of the state".
The PAC took strong exception to the letter written by Fernandes to all MPs "authenticating and circulating a booklet by RV Pandit containing derogatory remarks against the CAG" which, it said, was a constitutional body.
The PAC unanimously resolved that the matter regarding possible breach of privilege and also amounting to interference in the functioning of the PAC by the defence minister be brought to the notice of the Speaker for examination by the privileges committee of Parliament.
The committee was to review the CAG report for the year ending March 31, 2001, which had pointed out irregularities in arms purchases worth Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion) for 17 weapon systems during the Kargil clashes.
The CAG had indicted the defence ministry for purchase of shells for Bofors 155 mm guns worth Rs 1,200 crore (Rs 12 billion) from South Africa, whose shelf-life had expired.
It had said procedures had not been followed for the purchase of illumination ammunition and combat snow shoes worth Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million), which did not fit soldiers and ultimately had to be given away to Mother Teresa's charity.
"Nearly all the supplies were either received or contracted and received well after cessation of hostilities and, therefore, in no way supported the operations," the report said.The CAG had also rapped the defence ministry for the purchase of a large number of aluminium caskets, weighing more than 35 kgs, to carry the bodies of Kargil martyrs, which were found unusable because they were too heavy.