Controversy over jurisdiction of PAC, JPC probing 2G scam
The turf war between the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the probe into the 2G scam reached the court of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Friday.
JPC chairman P.C. Chacko and PAC chief Murli Manohar Joshi called on the Speaker, at her request, to put forth their case on the controversy over the jurisdiction of the two committees.
After its first sitting on March 24, the JPC ‘unanimously' authorised the chairman to seek the Speaker's opinion on whether the PAC enquiry clashed with the specific terms of reference of the JPC.
“I told the Speaker that it is not normal for two parliamentary committees to enquire into the same subject. The JPC with specific terms of reference has been unanimously endorsed by Parliament and a parallel probe into the same subject is to be avoided,” Mr. Chacko told The Hindu, after the hour-long meeting at which the Speaker heard the heads of both panels.
The dominant opinion among the JPC members is that the PAC's domain is limited to looking into the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General but it is poaching on issues of the telecom licence policy.
However, the PAC is not convinced. In the course of his briefing, Dr. Joshi is believed to have told the Speaker that the PAC, besides being a constitutional body, was not barred from probing policy issues which have a bearing on revenue loss.
Dr. Joshi reportedly told her that the PAC had been looking into the 2G scam long before the JPC was constituted and its probe was at an advanced stage.
Moreover, the view within the PAC is that while the JPC is mandated to submit its report by the end of the monsoon session of Parliament, the PAC is a continuous body. “What if Parliament or the Speaker decides not to extend the tenure of the JPC beyond the monsoon session,” asked a PAC member. Indications are that the PAC might complete, in a couple of months, its probe into alleged irregularities in grant of licences and the perceived or real loss to the exchequer.
In defence of his stand, the chairman of the JPC, at the end of its first meeting, quoted from the book ‘Practice and Procedure of Parliament' by M.L. Kaul and S.K. Shakdar and said that as a rule the PAC expresses no opinion on a policy matter.
Four days later, after a meeting of the PAC, Dr. Joshi insisted that its authority was not confined to enquiry into the CAG reports, and that the committee headed by him had jurisdiction over all issues.
“The PAC began looking into the telecom licence issue in January 2010 under the chairmanship of Jaswant Singh. At that time there was no CAG report. The subject is currently being investigated by the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Besides, the CAG is seized of the matter. None of this came in the way of the PAC enquiry,” Dr. Joshi said.
In the last few months, the PAC summoned several functionaries, including the CAG, the Finance Secretary and the editors of two magazines who had published leaked tapes of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia's conversations. It has summoned industrialist Ratan Tata and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia to appear on April 4 and 5.
Besides raising the question of the PAC's locus standi to look into policy, the JPC sought the Speaker's opinion on the propriety of association of former Cabinet Ministers with its work.
A question mark over the presence of those who were Ministers from 1998 to 2009 in the JPC assumes importance. For, seven former Ministers, who are part of the committee, were from the National Democratic Alliance governments led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh representing the BJP in the existing JPC best illustrate the point. Though there have been precedents of association of former Ministers in the earlier JPCs, the committee chairman at a news conference here maintained that the issue arose as the existing JPC was specifically asked to look into the telecom policy. Immediately after the constitution of the JPC, a section of the Congress raised the subject.