JPC meet on 2G spectrum allocation scam postponed5 min read . Updated: 25 Apr 2013, 10:33 PM IST
Meeting postponed because of the demise of a sitting Lok Sabha member Ambica Banerjee, says P.C. Chacko
New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government got a breather on Thursday with the crucial meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation irregularities being deferred to next week.
However, it is unclear whether the UPA will be able to wriggle out of a tight situation, especially with the opposition raising the stakes and petitioning the Lok Sabha Speaker for the removal of the parliamentary panel’s chairman P.C. Chacko. Either way, the developments have further clouded prospects for the remainder of the Budget session of Parliament, a period in which the UPA had hoped to get Parliament’s approval for several key items of legislation.
Which way the JPC votes will be critical. A defeat would mean a loss of face for the Congress and fresh ammunition for the opposition. Alternatively, if the UPA succeeds in splitting the opposition and swinging the vote in its favour to ensure that the controversial JPC report is adopted, it is likely that the opposition will stall Parliament.
According to a Congress leader, who declined to be identified, the next JPC meet is likely to take place on 29 April.
The opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been trying to isolate the ruling coalition following Chacko’s draft report, which absolved both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P. Chidambaram of any wrongdoing in the 2G scam.
Fifteen members belonging to the BJP, the Janata Dal-United, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Left parties, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Biju Janata Dal approached Speaker Meira Kumar to convey their “no-confidence" in Chacko.
The Congress has 11 members including the chairman and its ally Nationalist Congress Party has one. The Bahujan Samaj Party has two members and the Samajwadi Party has one in the parliamentary panel—both parties are considered “friendly" to the Congress.
Subhash Kashyap, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha and a constitutional expert, pointed out that the report cannot be adopted if a majority of the members oppose it.
“Rules of procedures provided for the JPC say all decisions have to be taken by majority of those present," Kashyap said. “If members question the draft report, the chairman has to go by the majority."
However, as far as the removal of the chairman was concerned, this was the Speaker’s prerogative, he added.
“The Speaker appoints him so he can be removed by the Speaker only. However, in a democracy, it is expected that the chairman is backed by the majority," Kashyap said.
If the chairman is removed, the new chairman can adopt the report incorporating some changes. However, the report cannot be presented in Parliament unless it is approved by the committee, he said.
The meeting was cancelled in view of the death of a Trinamool Congress member of the Lok Sabha, Ambica Banerjee.
The opposition members alleged that Chacko had failed in his duty to lead the JPC to bring out the truth. “Instead, he has used the JPC to conceal and subvert the truth," their letter to the speaker alleged. “With his removal, we want to ensure that integrity of JPC is maintained," BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said after giving the memorandum to the Speaker. “If Chacko is not removed, we will continue our protest and get the draft report rejected," he added.
In an attempt to counter the opposition move, the Congress wrote to the Speaker demanding the removal of three BJP members— Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad—contending “conflict of interest". These members were “instrumental in taking major decisions relating to the telecom sector that are being investigated into by the JPC as its terms of reference is spread over the period from 1998 to 2009," the letter said. They pointed out that Singh was chairman of a high-level group on telecom in 1998 and later head of a group of ministers on telecom, in which Sinha and Prasad were members. The war of words resonated outside the JPC too. While parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath dismissed the demand as “absolutely incorrect", leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj tweeted: “Kamal Nath has no authority to say that Chacko will not resign. No confidence motion against P.C. Chacko has been moved by a majority of the members of JPC. Only six out of 15 signatories are from BJP."
Congress, however, has not given up hope. At least two leaders said the deferring of Thursday’s JPC meeting has given them “adequate" time to “deal with the situation". Although the TMC, an erstwhile ally of the UPA, was a signatory to the memorandum, a senior Congress leader familiar with the development said the party leadership hopes that TMC member, Kalyan Banerjee, would abstain if there was a vote on the report.
The Congress also got some relief when Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPM member Sitaram Yechury said his party did not want the clash between the two parties to derail the JPC report on 2G.
Yechury indicated that he would rather give a dissent note that will be attached with the report. “My dissent note is ready and I will submit it at the meeting of the JPC when it is held next week. It is a detailed note which will give out the reasons why we disapprove the draft report, which is completely biased," Yechury said.
“We may have to give in little bit," the leader added. The Samajwadi Party has said it would oppose the JPC draft report if former telecom minister and DMK leader A. Raja is not allowed to personally depose before the panel, but indicated that it would not back the BJP’s moves. Raja, who had sought to appear before the JPC, has sent a 40-page note explaining his actions to the Committee in which he said he had kept the prime minister updated in person and in notes on his policies.
The DMK, which was a part of the UPA government, withdrew its support over the Sri Lankan Tamil issue last month.
Mint’s Sahil Makkar and PTI contributed to this story.