Chacko gets into turf war with Joshi over 2G scam probe

 Its last meeting held on April 15 turned acrimonious as the DMK and Congress members launched a scathing attack on the panel chairman and veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi for continuing with the 2G probe. The verbal exchanges went on for nearly five hours even as key witnesses were made to wait and finally could not depose before the committee.

The crux of the issue is the turf war between the PAC and the recently set up Joint Parliamentary Committee that has been on ever since the latter was constituted on February 20 to go into the 2G spectrum scam issue. At the last PAC meeting, the Congress and DMK members took on the panel chief Joshi for not summoning former minister A Raja — the central figure in the scam — now in jail. The BJP members retaliated saying the Congress-DMK plan was mainly to prevent attorney general G N Vahanvati, who reportedly gave an opinion in favour of Swan, (one of the accused firms in the scam) and delay the deposition of PMO officials, who were to appear before the panel the next day. The PAC meeting on Thursday promises to be stormy too.

It was after a relentless opposition stalled the entire 2010 winter session of parliament demanding the constitution of a JPC to probe the scam which forced the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government accede to the demand.

Ever since he was appointed chairman of the JPC, Congress MP from Kerala P C Chacko has been demanding the PAC not to go beyond examining para-by-para the report of the Comptroller and Auditory General. His complaint is that the PAC instead was getting into the policy-questioning domain. Said Chacko: “There is no clash of interest, but parliamentary propriety is that the PAC should not look into telecom policy issues.” He is of the opinion that JPC has been constituted to look into the issue of policy in telecom sector as per the terms of reference. “You cannot have two committees looking into the same issue”.

But Joshi is unfazed. “PAC’s powers go beyond the CAG report and overlapping cannot be ruled out. There can be overlapping with JPC. There can be overlapping with the supreme court. There can be overlapping with the CBI probe”, according to him. “PAC has a constitutional mandate and is a  perpetual body. PAC will be there whether JPC is there or not.” (The CAG report that the PAC is looking into had estimated notional loss from the 2G scam at Rs 1.76 lakh crore and revealed a huge politician-bureaucrat-corporate nexus.)

As the Chacko-Joshi deadlock continued, they decided to meet the final arbiter, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar but it was not of much help to either of them. She advised the two to “work in close co-operation and harmony with each other”.

Defined role

Subhash Kashyap, constitution expert and former secretary general of Lok Sabha tends to agree with Joshi. He told Deccan Herald: “Unlike the JPC, PAC has a defined role, is prescribed in rules and it has to proceed on the basis of CAG. Since it has a defined role, it cannot be superceded by any other body. Ordinarily, PAC does not go into policy matters but it can look into the inadequate management and suggest alternative policies for better financial management. If a policy has resulted in financial losses, it can suggest alternative routes. JPC is not part of the constitution, it is set up under inherent powers of parliaments”.

Senior Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh, however, differs with Kashyap, saying,  “there is certainly a contradiction. While it is true that JPC is set up in a given situation on a given issue and for a limited period, PAC should not delve into others’ domain and has to maintain its limits. PAC should not go beyond its jurisdiction and trample upon the powers of other committees”.

Never in the past did the issue of jurisdiction hamper the working of two parliamentary panels. There have been four JPCs in the last 25 years. The first JPC was set up in 1987 to go into the Bofors payoffs scandal while the second was formed in 1992 to look into the Harshad Mehta scam. The third was constituted in 2001 to probe the Ketan Parekh share scam while the fourth was established in 2003 to investigate allegations of the presence of pesticides in soft drinks.

What exactly are the powers of the two committees and how are they set up? PAC is a regular body formed every year to scrutinise how the money sanctioned by parliament has been spent by the government. It is supposed to take references only from the government auditor’s report, which limits its role. Generally, it does not express opinion on policy issues but can express its opinion on financial loss while executing a policy. It is mandatory on the part of the government to submit to parliament an action taken report on the recommendations of the PAC.

JPC, set up by parliament, has a set terms of reference while probing a particular issue. It cannot force the government to take action based on its report; rather government can disagree with the report. Both the JPC and the PAC can only look at documents and examine ministry officials who testify before them.

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