Indian government to allow cross-party graft probe

The Indian government is to concede to opposition demands for a cross-party probe into an alleged telecoms fraud that cost the nation up to $40 billion in lost revenue, lawmakers said Sunday.

Opposition parties wrecked the last parliamentary session of 2010 by holding protests every day demanding the investigation and refusing to allow any legislation to be debated or passed.

The government's move, which is likely to be officially announced on Tuesday, means the new parliamentary session starting on Monday should open without protest. The budget is due to be presented on February 28.

"Government has agreed on the JPC (joint parliamentary committee)," Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta told reporters after an all-party meeting on Sunday.

The Congress-led government had refused to allow the probe for months, saying that other independent investigations were underway, but pressure has been growing on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the graft allegations.

Former telecoms minister A. Raja, who has been arrested, is suspected of rigging rules to favour certain companies bidding for second-generation (2G) mobile licences, causing a potential loss to the treasury of up to $40 billion.

The valuable deals were sold on a first-come, first-served basis instead of via auction.

Police suspect Raja and other top government officials colluded with firms - many of which were ineligible to bid - in selling the licences at bargain prices and are seeking to determine whether kickbacks were paid.

The 2G scandal and widespread corruption allegations stemming from the over-budget Delhi Commonwealth Games in October have shaken the government as public impatience with official corruption mounts.

Singh last week vowed to punish all corrupt officials regardless of their seniority.

"I am looking forward to a fruitful and productive session of parliament," he said on Sunday after the meeting.

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