New Delhi: In what could blunt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by a senior BJP leader, has sought to widen the scope of the panel’s mandate.
An advertisement that appeared in English dailies on Thursday, said the PAC, headed by Murli Manohar Joshi, has invited views and suggestions from various individuals, experts, associations, institutions, etc. on “recent developments in the telecom sector including allocation of 2G and 3G spectrum”. It also says the PAC, a parliamentary audit panel, has been examining the issue since June by gathering information from various sources such as government departments as well as experts in the telecom sector through “oral deposition and written submissions”.
“After the laying of the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report on the issue of licences and allocation of 2G spectrum in Parliament, on 16 November 2010, it stands referred to the committee and serves additional valuable inputs in the examination of the subject,” the advertisement said.
This attempt to expand its scope of inquiry comes at a time when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and parties outside the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition have intensified their demand for a JPC into the spectrum allocation claiming that the PAC mandate would be limited to the CAG report.
At a protest rally against the Congress-led UPA government, which has been embroiled in a series of corruptions scandals, the BJP leaders on Wednesday asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to either face the JPC or step down. The government had rejected the opposition’s demand, repeatedly saying that the ongoing inquiries by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the PAC and a judicial inquiry ordered by the department of telecom were adequate. Singh has expressed his willingness to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent for this.
“The advertisement, if it has appeared, in fact vindicates the Congress stand,” said Sanjay Nirupam, Congress spokesperson. He countered the opposition’s argument over the PAC’s scope being limited.
“The PAC can look into policy matters too, besides the CAG. Besides, the PAC is the oldest parliamentary institution, which was formed n 1921,” he said. “The Lok Sabha speaker has the right to expand its mandate.”
Senior Congress leader and chairman of the Committee on Public Sector Units, another parliamentary committee, V. Kishorechandra Deo, said setting up a JPC would create constitutional difficulties as the government would then need to withdraw whatever the PAC has done.
The PAC has the statutory right to look into the CAG report tabled in Parliament, he said.
He also pointed that the advertisement could not have been published without the consent of the chairman of the PAC.
The BJP said the chairman was in all probability not aware of the advertisement. “This is the kind of joke that only the UPA is capable of. Our demand is very clear that we have rejected the PAC... We are 100% sure that it (the advertisement) was published without the consent of the the committee chairman Mr. Joshi. There is no rift within the party,” said Tarun Vijay, BJP spokesperson.
Joshi declined to comment on any issue pertaining to the PAC, when contacted by Mint. Former Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T. Achary said: “Without the chairman’s consent, no advertisement can be issued.”
A minister in the Union cabinet, who did not want to be identified, said the demand for a JPC is the “result of infighting” in the BJP. “A section of the BJP leaders do not want the PAC chairman Joshi to look into the issue,” the minister said.
The BJP, which along with other opposition parties, stalled proceedings in Parliament in the winter session that ended on 13 December, said there was no question of any infighting in the party over the issue.
“The party is united in its demand for a JPC. M.M. Joshi was in fact present at the NDA rally yesterday, so where is the question of any infighting... The speculation just shows the nervousness of the Congress party,” Vijay said.
Rewati Raman Singh, a Samajwadi Party leader and PAC member, said he along with some other members, including a BJP leader, had protested against the PAC’s decision to take up the matter on a priority basis. “We have no knowledge about the advertisement and we are waiting for the next meeting, which is on 27 December,” he said. The PAC has already discussed the issues related to spectrum allocation in four of its meetings since 30 June.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) parliamentarian and politburo member Brinda Karat said her party was also against the PAC taking up spectrum allocation as it has to look into many urgent issues, including the alleged irregularities in the preparation for the October Commonwealth Games. “Joshi has to explain why this is happening while he shares the dais with the NDA demanding a JPC.”
Karat also said the government was merely trying to find excuses to reject the opposition’s demand.
The CAG report on 2G spectrum irregularities has indicated the mismanagement by former telecom minister A. Raja and the department of telecommunications led to a notional loss of Rs 1.76 trillion to the national exchequer.