Association of ex-Ministers and clash in PAC mandate are the contentious topics
The much-debated Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), set up to probe the purported irregularities in grant of telecom licences and the telecom policy from 1998, sought clarity on two contentious issues at its inaugural meeting on Thursday before proceeding further.
These are the propriety of association of former Cabinet Ministers with its work, and whether there was a clash in the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by Murli Manohar Joshi enquiring into the same subject with the specific terms of reference of the JPC.
The JPC members “unanimously” authorised chairman P.C. Chacko to meet Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and seek her opinion on both subjects. Of the 30 members, 27 participated in the deliberations.
The question mark over the presence of those who were Ministers during 1998-2009 in the JPC assumes importance as seven former Ministers were part of the National Democratic Alliance governments led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh, representing the Bharatiya Janata Party in the current JPC, best illustrate the point.
Though there have been precedents of association of former Ministers in the earlier JPCs, Mr. Chacko, during a news conference here, maintained that the matter arose as the current JPC had been specifically asked to look into the telecom policy. A section of the Congress raised the subject immediately after the constitution of the committee.
On the possible conflict in the enquiries by the PAC and the JPC on the telecom issue, Mr. Chacko 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 expressed no opinion on a policy matter.
PAC a constitutional body
At the same time, he conceded that the PAC was a constitutional body and was seized of the telecom issue even before the birth of the JPC.
“There is no conflict of interest as such. The general view at our meeting was that two parliamentary committees probing the same subject should be avoided,” he said.
Mr. Chacko said he would request the Speaker to invite Dr. Joshi when he presented to her the views of the JPC. “My contention is that after the unanimous constitution of the JPC by Parliament with specific terms of reference, the scenario has changed,” he said.
At the inaugural meeting, the JPC drew a broad schedule of future meetings and members were asked to submit the list of witnesses to be summoned and the documents to be called. A public notice will also be issued inviting suggestions for consideration by the JPC.
“The committee has been mandated to submit its report by the end of the monsoon session of Parliament. In effect we have about five months and we need to hold sessions on a continuous basis to complete the task,” Mr. Chacko said.