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JPC On 2G Spectrum Scam:WILL IT END LIKE OTHERS?, by Poonam I Kaushish, 25 Feb, 2011 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 25 February 2011

JPC On 2G Spectrum Scam


By Poonam I Kaushish


Its the silly season of loads of brouhaha. Some khatta-meetha, a little saach-jhooth and a lot of tu-tu-mein-mein about you-denigrated-the-instititution, no-you-destroyed-it. No guesses, Parliament of course, the high temple of democracy which hold the record for producing the largest amount of hot air, farcical theatrics and empty boasts. What’s new?


If one expected a new year, new session with a new beginning, the hope was belied. The first week was the stereotype usual. By and large empty benches, dozing MPs who only came ‘alive’ when ‘hot’ issues were raised. The cause celebre, 2G spectrum scam saw a full Lok Sabha on  Thursday last when the Joint Parliamentary Committee to go into the Rs 1.76 lakh crore swindle was constituted. Followed by acrimonious accusations between the Treasury Benches and the Opposition over the genesis of the scandal, during the BJP-led NDA versus Congress-led UPA Governments.


But now that the dust has settled and the Opposition has had its say and way over setting up of the 30-member strong JPC, the moot point is: Will it serve any purpose? Is the Government bound by its recommendations? Will the culprits be nailed? Return the money they have amassed?


All one can do is keep fingers crossed and hope that the JPC gets to the bottom of unraveling the scam. Sadly, if one goes by the experience and outcome of the four earlier JPCs set-up, there is not much one can look forward to. Primarily because even as the JPC recommendations have persuasive value, the Committee cannot force the Government to take any action on the basis of its report.


It is entirely the Government prerogative and discretion to launch fresh investigations on the basis of a JPC report. According to rules the Government is only required to report on the follow-up action taken on the basis of the recommendations of the JPC and other committees. The committees then submit ‘Action Taken Reports’ in Parliament on the basis of the Government’s reply. These reports can be discussed in Parliament and the Government can be questioned on the basis of the same.


Importantly, as records show the earlier four JPCs have been quite disappointing in establishing what happened and in identifying and punishing those culpable. Recall, the first was instituted to inquire into the Bofors contract on 6 August 1987. The Committee, headed by B Shankaranand, held 50 sitting, but was lame duck as the Opposition boycotted committee hearings on grounds that it was packed with Congress members. Needless to say when the report was tabled in both Houses of Parliament August 1988, it was rejected by the Opposition.


The second JPC, headed by former Union Minister and senior Congress leader Ram Niwas Mirdha, was set up to probe irregularities in securities and banking transactions in the aftermath of ‘big bull’ Harshad Mehta scandal which led to a steep over 500 point fall in the Sensex in July 1992. The recommendations of this JPC too were neither accepted in full nor implemented.


The third JPC was assigned to probe the Ahmedabad-based cooperative bank, Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank’s big exposure to the stock market through the “K-factor” nee Ketan Parekh. Set up on 26 April 2001 with senior BJP MP Prakash Mani Tripathi as Chairman, the JPC held 105 sittings and gave its report on 19 December 19 2002. However, the Government did not accept the sweeping changes in stock market regulations made by the Committee but also diluted many of its suggestions.


The last JPC was set up in August 2003 to look into pesticide residues in soft drinks, fruit juice and to set safety standards. The Committee, headed by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar confirmed that soft drinks did have pesticide residues and recommended stringent norms for drinking water. Alas, nothing came of this too.


Forget the JPCs, the fate of various other Parliamentary committees reports are no better. Piles and piles of reports on various Union Ministries gathering dust in the corridors of Parliament bear mute testimony that voluminous paper reams make not even an iota of difference. Buried beneath lies the forgotten truth of a committee system launched with great fan fare in March 1993 by the then Lok Sabha Speaker Shivraj Patil.


These were intended to save the time of the House by offering our MPs’ an opportunity to ensure greater accountability of the Government to Parliament through a closer look at its working. As also to facilitate in-depth consideration of issues, which involve technical points and are difficult to be thrashed out on the floor of the Houses.


Appropriately, the three-month-long Budget session is now split into two, with a fortnight’s recess in between. The recess is provided to enable the MPs as the members of the standing committees to go through with a toothcomb the annual budgets of various ministries and departments and their demands for grants and make recommendations, something which the two Houses as a whole could do only cursorily.


Sadly, however, our MPs view the recess as a fun-time break and feel they have better things to do. Often even ensuring the quorum of 17 MPs in the 45-odd member committee, becomes an uphill task. Most members merely put in an appearance, sign their attendance and quietly disappear. The reason? This entitles them to bunk meetings and yet draw an allowance of Rs 1000 per day.


More, scandalous is that while committees should be meeting all the ten working days of the two weeks, from 11 am to 6 pm as in the case of the two Houses, this does not happen. What is worse, some committees do not even have a full sitting. They meet for just an hour or two!


One basic question arises: Are the Committees, specially the JPC any use if their valuable suggestions never get to be discussed or translated into Government action? More important, how would it unravel any swindle if the JPC cannot summon and question the perpetrators?


Look at the absurdity. The Parliament is sovereign. It allows even the dumbest of MPs the right to ask the Prime Minister a question and he has per force to answer. Yet the Prime Minister cannot be summoned or questioned by a JPC investigating a case of national importance. 


Thus, it is imperative that India gets rid of its colonial hangover and allows the Prime Minister and Ministers to be present in the meetings of the Committees, as in the UK, as much could be gained. The Ministers would then be available to answer all the queries and respond across the table to various suggestions, instead of learning about the discussions second hand from their officers attending the meetings.


In sum, the coming days are crucial. One hopes the JPC on the Raja spectrum scam will help erase some corruption taint and restore the people faith in our parliamentary system. Our Government should ensure that the aam aadmi gets the full value of the huge amount of money it spends on the system. Parliament needs to be strengthened and its functioning made more effective vis-a-vis the Government. The success of the JPC would give a promising dimension to Parliamentary control over the Government and enable Indian democracy to deliver. Is the UPA willing to let truth prevail?  ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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