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More Than The PAC:JPC VITAL FOR TRUTH, by Shivaji Sarkar, 7 December 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 7 December 2010

More Than The PAC


By Shivaji Sarkar


The reticence on not having the Joint Parliamentary Committee for probing the Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G scam has stalled Parliamentary proceedings for over three weeks.


The Opposition led by the BJP has exemplified rare unity with the Left, AIADMK, Samajwadi and other Parties joining issue over unravelling the mystery that involves large corporate groups. The CAG has done the basics to point out how the Government has been deprived of the funds that could have easily come to the exchequer.


The Congress has made the stalling of both the Houses an issue of “ethics”. Its MPs are trying to denigrate the Opposition by posturing that they would forego their daily allowances. The Congress is also trying to emphasise that the nation is losing massive sums every day as the House proceedings are not allowed to be held.


These are good arguments. There is only one mistake in the calculations. Parliament spends massive sums to run its offices, in staff salaries, security, library and other paraphernalia every day whether the Houses are in session or not. Also, many House committees meet during the recess. The Speaker, Dy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Vice-President and Dy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister and Leaders’ of Opposition of both Houses continue to function uninterrupted. So do the Chairmen of various House committees.


The campaign on expenses tries to portray as if Parliament does not spend any money when the Houses are not in session. That is not the truth. During the session what Parliament spends in addition to its normal outflows is on MPs allowances. Forgetting that MPs, who are members of various committees, are also paid sitting allowances at the same rate.


So why this shrill cry on an issue which is not the truth? How is the cost of the session per day calculated? If it is virtually the gross annual Parliamentary expenditure divided by 365 days then it is a very inappropriate way of calculation. In fact, the cost of a session is minimal if the normal expenditures are seen in perspective. Clearly this is to mislead the nation.


Besides, there is nothing abnormal in disrupting the Houses. The rules provide for it. There are clear provisions for walk-outs to mark protests. Stalling the Houses is a democratic method and a Parliamentary practice to air grievances and draw attention of the authorities and the nation to some grave issues like the 2G scam.  It is far inexpensive to stall the House proceedings than blocking roads and rail traffic across the country to force it to adopt the path of probity.


Some television and newspapers without studying the Parliamentary practices join the raucous dishing out inappropriate figures to malign the politicians. The media needs to realise that its job is to inform and not digress. Unfortunately, a large section of the media is doing only that. It needs to strengthen the process of protest against issues that rock the nation and drain its coffers.


Further, the Fourth Estate needs to know that statistics on Parliament do not total democracy. Questionably, who is responsible for stories like 114 hours lost during the winter session costing Rs 25 crore? Some raise the bogey that MPs “should spend time debating bills brought by the Government”.


This approach is demeaning the office of the MP. A Right Honourable is not a servant of the Government. He has a more onerous duty to question the Administration for the betterment of democracy and its functioning. The right to protest makes that possible.


This is not all. The Press has become a partner in another disinformation campaign. It has been trying to float the idea that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by a senior Opposition MP, presently BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi can do a detailed inquiry.


The PAC is the apex auditing body. The CAG reports are vetted by it. It has the right to accept, reject or settle the objections raised by the CAG. But its investigative powers are outlined by the CAG report. It has to move on the lines of the audit report done by it. Some digression and some additional inquiries are possible but beyond that there are limitations.


Further, the CAG reports suffer from a basic infirmity. Its mandate is limited to auditing Government organisations. In the process, if some private organisations come in the way the CAG can mention that in its reports. But it does not have the powers to investigate the operations, functions and the modus operandi of the private corporate or any other organisation.


This is the job of the criminal investigating agencies, which presently the CBI is doing. This is not part of the CAG report. The PAC cannot jump the gun. The basic CAG report sets its contours. This means a wider investigation beyond the Government or public sector organisations is not in its ambit.


This is the objection of the Opposition. The JPC on the Harshad Mehta stock market scam was primarily to unravel the modus operandi of different public and private sector organisations, loopholes in the rules, the lack of a regulator, lax banking sector rules and the free-for-all stock market operations. The JPC report established certain norms and led to the setting up of the stock market regulator SEBI. It has been able to streamline stock market functions to an extent.


This is what the Opposition is demanding. There is nothing in the demand to suggest it is against the Government. The demand is to set the rules of the game for the telecom sector. Given that the fast changing technology has severe monetary ramifications. Undoubtedly, this is a grey area that requires insight. Which the limited PAC probe cannot do.


It is difficult to understand why the Government should take the demand for the JPC as an onslaught against it. The Government needs to be more transparent and honest, more than the Opposition. It has to run the show while the Opposition merely helps it do so. The demand for a JPC is aimed at that.


Would the Government specify how the PAC would probe the role of many of the corporate giants who ostensibly have made big money? Some of them are known to have resold the spectrum, at prices many times higher than what they had purchased from the Telecom Ministry. Even if the PAC were to go beyond its mandate, what guarantee that its Constitutional power would not be questioned?


Thus, it is time the Government accepts the Opposition demand for setting up the JPC. As the JPC’s mandate is set by the Government and Opposition with Parliamentary authority. The JPC enjoys wider powers to summon anybody from anywhere and investigate the involvement and modus operandi of the largest corporate groups.


Every delay is likely to help the culprit wipe off the pugmarks. The Government had not lost anything in any of the previous JPCs. Particularly, as every JPC helps strengthen the process of governance.


The debates should not be restricted to scoring brownie points in the Press. The issue is much graver and needs a solution at the national level. The JPC alone can set those rules and not the PAC. Let us go for it. ---- INFA



(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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