Prime Minister offers to appear before PAC, opposition cries foul

Prime Minister offers to appear before PAC, opposition cries foul

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday wrote to the public accounts committee (PAC) probing alleged irregularities in the allocation of second generation (2G) telecom spectrum, saying he was willing to appear before it.

No Prime Minister has testified before the PAC in the past. Singh’s letter triggered fresh differences in the already divided PAC, with members of opposition parties saying the offer was an effort to parry demands for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe.

Meanwhile, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) officials who audited the alleged irregularities in spectrum allocation gave a presentation on Monday to the PAC, chaired by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi.

The CAG report has indicated that mismanagement by former telecom minister A. Raja and the department of telecommunications in the allocation of 2G telephone spectrum and licences led to a notional loss of Rs1.76 trillion to the national exchequer.

“The PAC discussion was revolving around the presumptive loss. The PAC members wanted to know the audit approach in assessing the loss. CAG was asked by the PAC member whether CAG had in the past relied on presumptive figures to reach the audit conclusions," said an official who attended the meeting. The official asked not to be named.

Singh sent his letter to the PAC on Monday, said an official in the Prime Minister’s Office who did not want to be named.

A member of Parliament, who also requested anonymity, said the PAC was divided on whether its rules should be altered to allow the Prime Minister to testify.

While members of the Congress, which heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, were keen on it, opposition parties such as the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) disagreed.

The BJP, Left parties and other opposition parties stalled nearly the entire winter session of Parliament demanding a JPC probe. They said on Monday that allowing Singh to appear before the PAC would weaken their demand.

“No minister can be called unless the (Lok Sabha) Speaker takes a decision on it. No committee can call these people. We may approach the Speaker, decide to call or not decide to call," said Joshi. He added that the 22-member PAC would take an appropriate decision collectively.

“If somebody is clean, why is there this nervousness to face a JPC," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.

Mohan Singh of the Samajwadi Party asked the Prime Minister to call leaders of all parties to explain why the government could not agree to a JPC probe.

“The PM (Prime Minister) is befooling the country by offering to appear before the PAC, which has no locus standi to call any minister or a Rajya Sabha member," he said.

Addressing a Congress party meeting on 20 December, Singh had said: “I sincerely believe that like Caesar’s wife, the Prime Minister should be above suspicion, and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent to that effect."

Some opposition parties had earlier even opposed Joshi’s decision to go ahead with the PAC probe. But they softened their stance on Monday.

“The PAC is different and this inquiry is one among the many issues it is taking up and it’s not a specialized one," said M. Tambidurai, an AIADMK leader and PAC member. “We are for JPC, but it can go parallel."

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has called an all-party meeting later this week to end the impasse in Parliament.

Anuja contributed to this story.