New Delhi: A day before the tenure of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is due to end, the government and the opposition, in an indication of growing friction, mounted verbal attacks on each other on Friday over the House panel’s inquiry into the allocation of second-generation telecom spectrum.
The increased polarization has put a question mark over whether the report indicting the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the home minister and the attorney general would be submitted to the Lok Sabha speaker. Experts said the acrimony could stall Parliament again.
While the PAC draft report is restrained in its criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, restricting the reference to his office, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused him of being involved in the alleged wrongdoing.
“I am charging the Prime Minister with direct complicity in the matter. I am also charging the finance minister (Pranab Mukherjee) for the same. They have not only abdicated their constitutional duty, but have also willingly become party to the scam,” said senior BJP leader and PAC member Yashwant Sinha.
The term of the current PAC, chaired by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, ends on Saturday. A senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, indicated that the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the party will object to Joshi being reappointed chairman. The leader, however, said the appointment was the prerogative of the Lok Sabha speaker.
“Dr Joshi has betrayed an inclination to subserve the political agenda of his party,” said Ashwini Kumar, minister of state for parliamentary affairs.
The BJP defended Joshi.
“This is a report prepared by the Lok Sabha secretariat, not an individual. I challenge the Prime Minister and home minister P. Chidambaram to find even one finding that is not supported by evidence,” Sinha said.
The draft report said the cabinet secretary and the PMO were aware of the so-called scam and questioned the home minister’s role. “The cabinet secretary and the PMO knew about these developments but did not take corrective action... The committee views it most unfortunate that the finance minister, the guardian of the public exchequer... pleaded with the Prime Minister to treat the matter closed,” the draft report said.
The current rancour is worrying, said Balveer Arora, former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“The core of a parliamentary system is a stable government-opposition relationship, and when that breaks down, parliamentary function becomes impossible,” he said. “This is what happened in the winter session of Parliament.”
Besides the BJP, other opposition parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, also criticized the UPA for stalling the report on Thursday.
“They want to scuttle any report which will go into the CAG report’s conclusions,” said CPM general secretary Prakash Karat.
On Thursday, a crucial meeting of PAC to finalize the report was disrupted by members of the ruling coalition, and subsequently a new chairman was elected in an unprecedented manner—Congress Rajya Sabha member Saifuddin Soz.
“The precedence is that the PAC chairman is always a Lok Sabha member and is from the main opposition party,” Sinha said. “It was the first time in the history of Parliament that a parliamentary committee behaved like that.”
Sangeeta Singh contributed to this story.