No consensus on CAG's presence during ex-audit official's deposition
After an hour of heated debate, a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee here on Monday was adjourned by Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi with no consensus in sight on the question of the former Director-General (Audit), R.P. Singh, deposing before it in the presence of Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai.
Congress member Sanjay Nirupam was reported to have demanded that Mr. Rai recuse himself or be asked by the Chair to leave during the deposition by Mr. Singh that would necessarily go against the finding of the CAG on the quantum of loss to the exchequer caused by 2G spectrum allocation. He apparently reasoned that a former employee of the CAG could not be expected to depose fearlessly in the presence of the CAG, an argument that BJP members countered saying since he had now retired, the CAG's presence could not be a problem.
There are reports that Mr. Singh, who was one of the main auditors for the 2G matter had differed with the CAG on the quantum of loss and that his initial estimate was a few thousand crores of rupees whereas the CAG had stated, in its final report, that the loss could have been as high as 1.76 lakh crore if it was calculated using a different method.
At the last PAC meeting, the issue was raised by some members who felt that Mr. Singh should be called to depose before it. That was to happen on Monday. While he waited in the wings, the debate in the committee on Mr. Rai's presence during Mr. Singh's deposition continued. It seems when Mr. Rai offered to leave if the Chair so desired, Dr. Joshi adjourned the meeting.
Before that, BJP members on the committee wanted that all those who have given different figures of losses — the CBI, the TRAI, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal, who had said the loss was zero, and Mr. Singh — should be asked to present their views to the PAC and be ready to answer questions. They also pointed out that the CAG was the “friend, philosopher and guide” of the PAC and could not be asked to leave the meeting during deposition by any witness.
Some Congress members, it would seem, were uncomfortable that the 2G matter was again being taken by the PAC, which had failed to get its first report on the subject adopted by the committee. When it was submitted to the Speaker despite this failure, she refused to place it in the Lok Sabha and “returned it” to Dr. Joshi.
The BJP and other Opposition members seemed keen to revive the issue in the PAC, while the Congress wants to leave the subject to the Joint Parliamentary Committee set up for this purpose.
After one hour of heated debate, the Chairman adjourned the meeting, saying he would consult experts on precedents whether the CAG can be present or be asked to recuse himself when witnesses depose before the PAC.
Another meeting scheduled for Tuesday has been cancelled on account of Chhath festival, a major holiday in Bihar.