A 30-member Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum scam is finally in shape. Senior Congress member PC Chacko has been appointed as the Chairman of the JPC. The JPC motion had been passed in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. All eyes are on what JPC will bring out in its probe.
To obtain evidence on its ‘Terms of reference’, the JPC will now consult experts, public bodies, associations, individuals and even interested parties suo moto or on requests made by them.
The JPC can ask any individual or agency to appear before it and the non compliance of the summon amounts to a contempt of the House. Although the proceedings of the JPC are by and large confidential, but in a matter related to “widespread public interest” like serious irregularities in securities and financial transactions, the chairman of the committee could brief the press about the deliberations.
Generally, the JPC does not summon the Prime Minister or a minister during the course of its inquiry. But in matters involving “widespread public interest” the JPC has the discretionary power to summon ministers, including the Prime Minister to testify.
Although it is yet unclear whether the 2G issue would be considered as a matter of “widespread public interest”, but there is every possibility Prime Minister may be summoned.
The supposed chief architect of the scam, DMK leader A Raja resigned in November last and was arrested in this February and is spending time in Tihar Jail since then.
However, the fact that he was the telecom minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet and the decision to allocate 2G spectrum licence at prices far below what an open auction could have ensured, is something for which the accountability would seep till it reaches the last door.
The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India exposed serious irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum and pegged the revenue loss to the national exchequer at a staggering Rs 1.76 lakh crore.
Although, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is scrutinising the CAG report and conducting an audit, but the 2G spectrum scam surely goes beyond accounting and the fact is that JPC does have a broader remit of investigation.
The JPC will examine the policy prescription and their interpretation by successive governments, including decisions of the Union Cabinet and the consequences thereof, in allocation and pricing of telecom licences and spectrum from 1998 to 2009.
The Supreme Court is already monitoring the 2G scam probe and directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate(ED) to investigate the scam. Interestingly, the CBI is facing the heat from the apex court for dragging its feet on the probe.
The SC’s observations do make the government squirm but what is of more consequence – in the long term- is the political fallout of the entire episode.
JPC on 2G scam is fifth of its kind. Let’s take a look at the JPCs formed earlier and their findings. Of the previous four JPCs, two JPCs were constituted during Congress’ rule and two during the rule of BJP-led NDA.
JPC on Bofors
The first JPC was constituted in 1987 to inquire into the Bofors pay off case by the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government. A year after the Bofors gun deal was signed between the Indian government and the now defunct Swedish arms company AB Bofors in 1986; Swedish radio reported that Bofors paid kickbacks to ruling Indian politicians and key defence officials to clinch the Rs 1,437 crore deal Howitzer gun deal.
In sharp contravention of the established policy guidelines which prescribes against the presence of middlemen in defence deals, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi is alleged to have played the role of a broker. Moreover, all kickback amounts are believed to have added to the cost of the guns purchased; for which India paid an excess amount of 242.62 million Swedish kroners.
As the skeletons began to tumble out of Congress’ closet, the opposition stepped up pressure for a JPC. After months of denial the Rajiv Gandhi government finally conceded opposition demand for a JPC.
A motion on the JPC was moved by then defence minister KC Pant in Lok Sabha on August 6, 1987. B Shankaranand was chosen as the chairperson. The JPC did not summon a single minister, let alone the prime minister. The opposition boycotted the committee. But it went ahead with its inquiry and held as much as 50 sittings and came out with its report.
The JPC report was tabled in Parliament on April 26, 1988. The report exonerated everybody. No middleman was involved in the Bofors gun deal and no evidence of kickbacks been paid, said the report.
JPC on Harshad Mehta scam
The year was 1992. Media reports exposed how stock market broker Harshad Mehta illegally dipped into the banking system to finance his stock buying spree. PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government announced a JPC to probe the multi-billion rupee stock market scam.
The JPC motion was moved by then parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Lok Sabha on August 6, 1992. Former Congress leader Ram Niwas Mirdha presided over the JPC.
The JPC which probed the irregularities in securities and banking transactions between August 1992 and December 1993 came out with a comprehensive report which was tabled in Parliament on December 21, 1993.
But, after submission of the JPC report, it took five long years to prosecute the accused. Though many of the recommendations in the report were never implemented, it is said that those recommendations paved a way to clean up India’s financial sector.
JPC on Ketan Parekh scam
Year 2001; yet another stock market scam broke. Following the footprints of Harshad Mehta, another stock broker called Ketan Parekh skilfully manipulated the Indian stock market between 1999-2001 by rigging up the stock prices and swindled crores of rupees from the banks.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government agreed to a JPC to investigate the nexus between Parekh, banks and corporate houses.
The JPC motion was moved by then parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan in Lok Sabha on April 26, 2001. The JPC was presided by senior BJP leader Lt Gen Prakash Mani Tripathi.
The committee held 105 sittings, completed its probe in eighteen months and came out with a report which called for a sweeping change in the stock market regulations. The report was unanimously accepted cutting across party lines.
JPC on pesticides residues
In 2003, media reports brought out the presence of pesticide cocktail in soft drinks, fruit juice and other beverages. Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government announced a JPC to look into the pesticides residues in soft drinks.
As against the norm, the JPC was presided over by a leader from the opposition -- NCP chief Sharad Pawar. The committee held 17 sittings and came out with its report. The report was tabled in the Parliament on February 4, 2004. The report confirmed the presence of pesticide residues and suggested safety standards for beverages.