New Delhi: The Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) probe into second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation irregularities hit a new hurdle on Friday with members on the panel from the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) challenging the functioning of the panel as a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) is conducting an enquiry into the same issue.
Two senior Congress party leaders separately said that if the dispute over the powers of the PAC and JPC is not resolved, it would defeat the purpose of getting to the bottom of the issue.
At a meeting of the PAC headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi on Friday, members belonging to the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) questioned the need for the committee to examine witnesses as the JPC has already been constituted for the purpose. The protests have forced Joshi to defer the questioning of witnesses, including attorney general G.E. Vahanvati and Central Bureau of Investigation director A.P. Singh as scheduled. However, law secretary D.R. Meena was questioned.
The PAC was expected to examine both cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar and principal secretary to the prime minister, T.K.A. Nair, on Saturday. However, the next meeting is likely to be only on 21 April.
An official who attended the meeting said the members were also arguing over the kind of questions to be asked to the attorney general and the CBI director.
According to a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, the committee cannot proceed unless there is a consensus among its members over the functioning of the committee.
“In fact, the speaker should not have allowed to constitute a JPC when the PAC was already investigating the matter,” the Congress leader said. “Otherwise, the PAC should have passed a resolution and recused itself from the investigation when the JPC was formed. Now the dispute will lead to a situation in which the investigation into the 2G scam will get fizzled out.”
V. Kishore Chandra Deo, another senior parliamentarian and a Congress leader, said: “According to the rules and constitutional procedures, the chairman can take a decision if there is a dispute in the committee. If he does not want to, he can refer the matter to the speaker. Ultimately, the house is supreme in these matters.”
The Congress party said the matter should be resolved between the two committees. “We said that with a JPC and a PAC together, there will be overlap, multiplicity and administrative clashes,” said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress spokesperson, when asked about why the Congress members stalled a meeting of the PAC on Friday. “It is for them (PAC and JPC) to resolve among and between themselves, we cannot say anything,” he said.
The PAC, which is looking into the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the 2G scam, has 22 members, including seven representing the Congress, four from the BJP, and one each from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the DMK.
The PAC, which had begun its examination of the CAG report on 2G irregularities before the formation of the JPC, is expected to finalize its report before its current term ends on 30 April. The new PAC, headed by Joshi himself, will take charge on 1 May.
The dispute over the powers of the parliamentary panels had begun after JPC chairman P.C. Chacko, a senior Congress leader, asked the PAC to withdraw suo moto from the investigation into the 2G scam. However, Joshi insisted that the PAC had the powers to probe all the matters relating to the scam. Chacko and Joshi had approached Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who had asked the two parliamentary committees to work in close cooperation and harmony with each other.
The Congress-led UPA had at first resisted a united opposition demand for the formation of the JPC, citing the fact that the PAC was already looking into the matter. The winter session of Parliament was adjourned without transacting any major business because of the dispute. The government conceded to the demand on 22 February, just ahead of the budget session.
Anuja and Appu Esthose Suresh of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.