As differences between members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have been aired with vitriolic vengeance, political discourse in the country has hit a new nadir. That the ruckus has been over a yet-to-be-finalized report makes it worse. In the process, the opposition has shown its opportunism; and the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-both constituents of the United Progressive Alliance government- their disregard for democratic values.
On Thursday, this brinkmanship reached its logical conclusion when PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi walked out of the committee’s meeting, and a UPA-led combine subsequently rejected 11:10 his draft version as the final report on the 2G telecom scam. It would not have caused as much concern had it indeed been a vote, preceded by normal democratic norms. Instead, the PAC has set a dubious precedent that is bound to have repercussions, especially on the UPA’s ability to push through much-needed legislative changes to revive political and economic reforms.
By protocol, all reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) are referred to the PAC, a statutory body. This makes the PAC a crucial democratic institution that ensures Parliamentary oversight of government policy action.
In this case, the CAG’s highly contentious findings on the allocation of 2G spectrum, especially its indictment of the UPA, provided fresh political ammunition to the opposition. To mitigate political damage, the Congress decided to checkmate proceedings. This could not have been too prudent-the UPA’s credibility is already in the doldrums after a series of alleged corruption scandals, and the public cannot be faulted if they believe the government was once again eager to avoid scrutiny.
What both the opposition and the government have overlooked is the damage to polity and their own credibility. The PAC’s failure will only retard governance further. Worse, they have missed an opportunity to objectively delve into the problem. The proper way would have been to thoroughly examine the CAG’s methodology and its conclusion that the decision to preclude an auction of telecom licenses caused losses to the exchequer. Several experts have already questioned this methodology. And, if there were indeed errors of either omission or commission, these should have been highlighted and measures suggested to ensure they were not repeated.
The spontaneous support for Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption showed that the country is thirsting for action. India’s Parliamentarians have once again failed the people.
PAC: A lost opportunity? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org@