“It will be difficult to remove the Chairman of any Parliamentary committee,” Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has said, citing the “absence of express provisions in the Rules,” in her response to the 15 members who sought the replacement of Congress MP and JPC Chairman P. C. Chacko.
However, Ms. Kumar has left the door open for a change in the JPC chairmanship. “It is a different matter if the Chairman himself resigns from the Chairmanship,” she states.
The JPC on 2G was set up under a resolution of Parliament in February, 2011 and it held its first meeting on March 24, 2011. In the past two years, it has called 28 witnesses across 56 meetings. However, allegations of partisan behaviour aimed at preventing a fair investigation have dogged its Chairman from the start, culminating in 15 of its 30 members rejecting the draft JPC report that was circulated on April 19.
Ms. Kumar expresses great anguish at this “difference of opinion among the members of the JPC, both in the functioning of the JPC as well as in the matter of the draft Report which was circulated for adoption.” In a letter to members of the JPC on ‘Allocation and Pricing of Telecom Licences and Spectrum’, Ms. Kumar writes that, “The faith reposed by the Parliament is betrayed by trading allegations against each other. It is, therefore, necessary for the Chairman and the Members to sink their differences and present a Report as mandated by the Parliament.”
Reminding the JPC that “Rule 261 provides that all questions at any sitting of a committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting” and that “All contentious issues can, therefore, be resolved by the Committee by having recourse to this Rule,” Ms. Kumar urges “the Chairman and the members of the JPC to work out an agreeable solution to end the current impasse and produce a report and, after adopting the same according to the Rules, place it before the Parliament.”
CPI leader, Gurudas Dasgupta said he is pressing for an extension of the JPC’s term beyond May 10, to coincide with the last day of Parliament’s Budget session to ensure the tabling of the report on the 2G scam investigation by the Parliamentary body.
“No JPC has failed to produce a report in the past,” Mr. Dasgupta said. “The fact that 30 Members of Parliament have met for two years and failed to produce any report will considerably diminish the stature of the JPC as an arm of investigation of Parliament.”
BJP leader Yashwant Sinha told The Hindu that unprecedented situations called for innovation, which was absent in the Speaker’s response. “If there is no rule available to remove the Chairman, then there is equally no rule preventing his removal. The appointing authority holds the discretion,” Mr. Sinha pointed out. “In the 1992 JPC on the security scam, we faced similar unprecedented situations which were resolved through innovating with the cooperation of the then Speaker. This culminated in Cabinet Ministers being called to the JPC as witnesses for the first time.”
The JPC now faces several outcomes. Some members point out that with the Samajwadi Party already having stated that it will not support any report unless ex-Telecom Minister A. Raja is called as a witness, the majority vote is likely to go against Mr. Chacko. In the event that Mr. Chacko continues as chairman and the term of the JPC is extended, a consensual report could emerge as the positive outcome of this decision. The other possibility is that Mr. Chacko calls a meeting at the close of the JPC’s term, wins over the Samajwadi Party vote and gets the draft report passed by the majority of the members.
Some JPC members believe that the collapse of the JPC serves the purpose of the Congress, since it does not want any conclusive report on the 2G scandal to be tabled in Parliament. Others say that ensuring the tabling of the draft report equally serves the Congress, since it launches a frontal attack on the CAG to establish that the 2G spectrum allocation in 2008 at 2001 prices did not lead to any loss, while further documenting irregularities in the telecom sector under the former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Ms. Kumar had received seven letters dated April 25, 2013 from 15 members of the JPC, all affirming no confidence in the Chairman of the committee, while making an appeal that Mr. Chacko be immediately replaced. It is learnt that JD (U) Chief Sharad Yadav, in a separate letter to Ms. Kumar dated April 29, 2013, has rejected the draft JPC report circulated by Mr. Chacko.
Mr. Chacko wrote to Ms. Kumar on April 25, “clarifying his position and justifying his conduct as the Chairman of the JPC,” which was supported by a letter dated April 26 from Mr. J. P. Agarwal and five other members of the JPC in which they have “refuted the contentions made by the 15 members in their letters and have reiterated their full confidence in Shri. P.C. Chacko, Chairman of the Committee, and assured their unflinching support.”
Ms. Kumar has rejected the request of six other JPC members led by Mr. E.M.S. Natchiappan to remove BJP members Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Ravi Shanker Prasad from the JPC on grounds that they were closely associated with the decision-making process of the government in 1998-2004, which is under investigation by the JPC. According to her, there is no conflict of interest in allowing them to continue as members as their “membership of the Council of Ministers during the earlier period would not constitute any personal, pecuniary or direct interest, unless such members have some other personal, pecuniary or direct interest referred to in Direction 52-A.”