Monday February 19, 2018
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Goa Crime Branch begins probe into Louis Berger bribery

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Manohar Parrikar

 

Panaji: The Goa Police Crime Branch on Monday started its probe into the $976,630 international bribery scandal involving New Jersey-based consultancy firm Louis Berger, Congress politicians and officials.

The ruling BJP in Goa sought blacklisting of the firm, while the Congress demanded questioning of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar by investigators for his utterances about the scandal.

On a day of hectic developments, state Bharatiya Janata Party president Vinay Tendulkar said a party delegation would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh to formally demand a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the bribery scandal.

An activist also filed a complaint with the central probe agency, alleging that more Goa ministers and officials were bribed by the consultancy firm in connection with two other projects.

“I have spoken to the director general of police and asked him to direct the Crime Branch to conduct the initial probe on the basis of which we will approach the CBI,” Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar said.

Director General of Police T.N. Mohan told reporters a Crime Branch team was formed and documents related to the bribe would be obtained soon.

Top officials of Louis Berger have already pleaded guilty to offering bribes to the tune of $3.9 million to secure contracts in Asian countries like India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kuwait.

While the settlement announced by the US Justice Department did not identify the politicians and officials who were offered bribes, the documents revealed that the amount of $976,630 in bribes was paid during 2009-2010 to a Goa minister and other officials.

Former Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat and former Public Works Department minister Churchill Alemao could also come into the ambit of the bribery investigation, sources said. Both Kamat and Alemao have denied the allegation.

Louis Berger was part of a consortium that eventually won a contract to execute a water and sewerage project in Goa.

The BJP, which has been at the receiving end over the last few days over a string of maladministration and graft cases, on Monday turned the heat on the Congress over the bribery scandal.

“Goa has been defamed internationally because of this bribery scam. BJP MPs from Goa will not only raise this issue in parliament, but we will also meet the prime minister and home minister to demand a CBI probe,” Tendulkar said.

Asked whether the BJP in Goa would seek blacklisting of Louis Berger, which is also linked to two other projects funded by the state government, Tendulkar said: “Yes. We will.”

While the BJP announced its intention to file a complaint with the CBI, Kashinath Shetye, a Right to Information (RTI) activist, on Monday filed a complaint with the agency demanding a probe into three projects secured by the consultancy firm in the state.

The Congress, meanwhile, in an attempt to brazen it out, dared the BJP to launch a CBI probe.

“Let the probe happen. We are not scared of anything,” Congress spokesperson Aleixo Reginaldo said, and demanded that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar should be questioned because of utterances made by him at a party meeting in Goa on Sunday.

“The defence minister said he knows the bungalow in which the scam deal was struck. The investigating agency should first question him about it,” Reginaldo said.

(IANS)

 

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BJP Offers Christians a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Is Religious Pilgrimage A New Playground For The Political Parties?

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community

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In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
  • The political parties (BJP and Congress ) are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage in the coming local elections of the eastern states of India
  • The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively
  • After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022

The Campaign promises during the elections times are quite bizarre nowadays, from “I’ll cut your taxes,” to “vote for me, and I’ll set you free.”

In the coming local elections in the Christian- majority state of Nagaland in India the agenda by the rival BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Congress parties are unique: “Vote for us and get either a free or a heavily subsidized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Yes, you read it right. The political parties are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage. The offer has been put up by the Prime Minister Modi- led BJP for the upcoming elections. Even the local partners of the Congress party are treading up the same path.

Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons
Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons

The BJP has not made it clear yet if it is offering the scheme to all of India’s Christians, or only to Christians in the northeast, or only to Christians in Nagaland. The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively. Nagaland is one of smallest states of India, with the population of just under two million people.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

As per the Tourism Ministry figures, around 58,000 Indian tourists came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015.

The elections are scheduled for the February 27 in three northeastern states – Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura – later this month.

The AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also tweeted on the double standard of the government and lashed out at the government for its discriminatory decision, ending Haj subsidy but allowing subsidies to continue for Hindu pilgrimages like the Mansarovar Yatra.

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community. But recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. The government cited the reason for the subsidy withdrawal as they wanted to utilise the funds saved from withdrawing the subsidy for the education of minorities, particularly girls. After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022.

Also Read: Government ends Haj subsidy as part of a new policy

The scheme is a clear cut example of hypocrisy and opportunism, especially considering the cancellation of Haj subsidies. It seems quite contrary, on the one hand, the government is cutting down the benefit scheme for one section of the society and on the other hand, some other community is been offered the same thing. Such moves bring out the double standards of the political parties just for the sake of vote bank. In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented.

In 2011, Nigeria also did something same as that of India. For many years, their government financed a trip to Mecca for Muslims, leading to some 42,000 Nigerians visiting the country. But with the change in the government, subsidies have been cut considerably and now a 12-day pilgrimage costs around 2000 dollars. The change in stance has resulted in 78% decrease from 2011.