India’s purchase of US troopship draws Left ire

March 17th, 2008 - 9:06 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) After castigating the India-US civil nuclear deal, the Left parties Monday questioned the government on the Indian Navy’s purchase of an ageing US troop carrier and sought a statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the acquisition. Raising the issue during zero hour in both houses of parliament, Left leaders termed the purchase as “irresponsible, anti-national, corrupt and uneconomic” and objected to the end-user restrictions the US had placed as part of the deal.

The statements came on the day the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Left parties that support it from outside met for a crucial round of discussions on the India-US nuclear deal.

Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha, veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta questioned whether the purchase of the INS Jalashva for $50.63 million was “an attempt to get closer to the US”.

India’s top auditor has also raised various objections on the deal, saying the 36-year-old ship had outlived the major part of its service life, envisaged to be 40 years, and the decision to acquire it “does not appear to be prudent”.

The comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came in his report fro 2006-07 tabled in parliament on Friday.

The report also pointed out that the US Navy had decided to decommission the 173-metre-long ship, formerly named USS Trenton, in 2006 after finding that nothing much could be achieved by any further modernization of the warship.

Basudeb Acharia of the Communist of Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), termed the deal as “dubious”, and demanded a probe into the circumstances under which it was inked.

“It is a dubious deal… I demand a probe into the purchase and a statement from the prime minister,” Acharia added. Other CPI-M members including Mohammad Salim supported him.

“Why did the government buy the ship when the US Navy decided it was no longer suitable for modernisation and should be decommissioned in 2006. The government has also accepted the US condition that the ship will not sued for any offensive purposes,” Acharia maintained.

Asking why the deal was clinched without any “visual inspection” of the warship, Acharia said: “Was the government was aware of the fact that three US sailors had died aboard the ship due to the gas leakage and six Indian sailors, including an officer, too have died aboard the vessel under similar conditions?”

CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury too questioned the government on the deal.

“The clauses of agreement between India and the US over the purchase of Trenton are questionable. The agreement gives the authority to the US Navy to inspect the warship whenever they want. There are several other restrictions imposed on India by the US,” told reporters outside Parliament House.

Raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha, Tapan Kumar Sen of the CPI-M said: “What is most disturbing is that the seller is imposing restrictions on the manner in which we can use the ship.

“The restrictions are an affront to our sovereign rights. To impose inspections on us is a very serious matter,” he maintained.

“We demand that the government make a statement in the house along with giving an assurance that inspections will not be permitted to take place,” Sen stated.

As Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan moved to the next item of business, Yechury stood up to demand that the government should be directed to make a statement.

“I can’t do that. This is zero hour,” Khan replied.

The ship, which can transport upwards of 900 fully armed soldiers over long distances, had been inducted into the Indian Navy last September.

The Indian Navy had felt the need for augmenting its amphibious landing capabilities in the wake of the 2004 tsunami when its rescue and humanitarian efforts were hampered due to lack of such ships.

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