Karnataka PAC mulls privilege motion against Speaker

Karnataka PAC mulls privilege motion against Speaker

Karnataka Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri

In what could be an unprecedented crisis in the Karnataka Legislature, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is considering moving a privilege motion against Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri for stalling an inquiry into alleged corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 equipment. 

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The PAC headed by senior Congress legislator HK Patil had sought a report from the Health Department over complaints of corruption in the procurement of various devices and protective equipment to fight the COVID-19 crisis. 

On May 28, the Committee was also slated to visit various quarantine shelters, COVID-19 hospitals and the Health Department to verify the facilities and safety measures provided to front line staff.

However, Kageri issued an order May 27 barring house committees from taking up any field visits or meetings with officials in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. This, Patil charged, obstructed the Constitutional duty of the PAC to look into complaints on misuse of public money.

“The question is, should we or should we not move a privilege motion. This will be decided in the (PAC) meeting on June 2,” Patil told reporters. Objecting to the Speaker’s notice, Patil pointed out there had not been any obstruction to the PAC’s functioning till now. “But this is the first time there’s an obstruction.” 

The Speaker’s order came in the way of duties that the legislature is supposed to perform. “The PAC has not been allowed to take up inspection in connection with alleged irregularities. This amounts to a breach of our duty and freedom,” Patil said. 

The equipment in question was procured by Karnataka Drug Logistics and Warehousing Corporation over the past couple of months when India was under lockdown. Complaints received by the PAC claim that some safety equipment were procured at triple the cost in the market, while others say that the equipment procured was of low quality. 

“How much money has been spent on ventilators? At what cost were masks and sanitisers purchased? This must be made public,” Patil said, daring Health & Family Welfare Minister B Sriramulu. 

When asked about Water Resources Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi’s statement that there were no irregularities in procuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, Patil said the PAC wanted to examine complaints about this. “This wasn’t a Congress investigation. It’s the PAC.” 

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