Both houses of Parliament were rocked on Tuesday over the role of the then finance minister and present Home Minister P Chidambaram, in the Rs 4,000-crore Aircel–Maxis deal.
The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) highlighted a news report alleging Chidambaram deliberately sat over the deal under consideration of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to benefit his son, Karti Chidamabaram. With the Opposition demanding the resignation of Chidambaram, the United Progressive Alliance government rushed to defend him trashing the news report and the allegations as “factually incorrect and totally baseless”.
The issue had been first raised by Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy, who alleged that during his term as finance minister, Chidambaram had allegedly benefited from the Aircel-Maxis deal. The news report on Tuesday gave the Opposition fresh ammunition to attack the government.
As soon as the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha met at 11 am, both Houses had to be adjourned. BJP and AIADMK members rushed into the well of the House, shouting slogans and demanding Chidambaram’s resignation. The Lok Sabha could not transact any business in the pre-lunch session, as it was adjourned thrice. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned twice till noon, after which normal business resumed.
It was only after minister of state for parliamentary affairs Rajeev Shukla made a formal statement in the Lok Sabha that business resumed. Shukla reiterated the government had issued a press release on April 28, denying allegations of any delay in clearing the 2006 Aircel-Maxis deal. Referring to the foreign investments made by Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd, Mauritius, to acquire 73.99 per cent equity in Aircel Ltd, Shukla stated that it had subsequently made another application for downstream investment.
Clarifying the relevant dates for the FIPB clearance, the government attempted to remove any doubt that there was any delay involved.
The relevant dates are September 1, 2006 for the application for investment, October 3 for the meeting of FIPB, when it recommended the proposal, October 6 when the minutes of FIPB were drawn up and moved by the deputy secretary, October 12 when the finance minister approved the minutes and October 20 when the formal letter of approval was issued.
Shukla stated, “It will be clear from the above that the proposal was processed in the normal course and approval was granted in the normal course without any delay.”
The finance ministry, too, issued a similar release, clarifying the dates of the deal.
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, thereafter described the alleged involvement of Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis deal as “highly controversial” and demanded that they be given time to seek clarifications from the government.
Drawing the attention of the House to the issue, Jaitley said, “One minister of this government had to resign because of that. The investigation in the matter is pending with the Central Bureau of Investigation.”
He added, “One of the key questions which has not been addressed is that while all this is pending and the matter goes to the FIPB, did somebody intrinsically connected receive some part of the shareholdings of the company whose application is pending? That is the key issue.”
The news report on Tuesday has alleged that the Aircel-Maxis deal had been pending since March 2006 but it was only in October that it was cleared; Chidamabaram allegedly withheld the deal till his son got five per cent shares in Aircel Televentures.