Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe – yes, this is the issue on which the NDA and the rest of the opposition have stalled the Winter Session of Parliament for over two weeks.
The logjam that began on 9th November has affected the legislative business of the government, thereby putting on hold the nation’s work.
The Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj (BJP), who is also the latest entrant to the Twitterati world from the political arena, wrote on the micro-blogging site, “Pranab Mukherji spoke to me & Advaniji some time back and told that JPC was not possible."
In the first 11 days of the Winter Session, the two Houses were supposed to meet for almost 115 working hours to finish off the necessary work. It was nice to see, for once, the Opposition united over a corruption issue, the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam. The Opposition has ensured no business is carried out in Parliament until a JPC probe is ordered into the spectrum scam. But this impasse has already cost the national exchequer a humongous Rs 80 crore and the amount is increasing with every passing day. The government is also in no mood to relent.
The Lok Sabha has met for only 5.37 hours in 11 days of the session, which is only nine percent of the scheduled time. On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha has met for a shameful 1.14 hours, according to the PRS Legislative Research.
BJP parliamentary party spokesperson SS Ahluwalia said, “The Opposition was ready to cooperate but they (government) have to accept our demand for setting up a JPC to probe into the 2G scam worth Rs 1.76 lakh crore.”
The Opposition has rejected the idea of a Supreme Court monitored CBI probe, and is standing firm on its demand for a JPC probe. Even after a marathon two-and-half hour lunch session attended by representatives of all parties, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee failed to make the Opposition fall in line.
The government has also ruled out a sine die adjournment of the session which is slated to conclude on December 13.
The non-NDA Opposition also marched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet President Pratibha Patil, to advise the government to set up the JPC.
‘45K cr extra spending okayed without debate’
But surprisingly, in the midst of the logjam the Parliament allowed the government to withdraw an additional Rs 45,000 crore from the exchequer with the Rajya Sabha returning related appropriation bills without debate.
The Lok Sabha had already passed the second batch of supplementary demands for grants with a gross amount of Rs 44,945.52 crore, while the net outgo for additional expenditure would be Rs 19,812 crore.
Both the Houses gave sanction for a large sum of extra expenditure for 2010-11 without any debate as the logjam over the JPC probe continued to disrupt Parliament proceedings.
JPC Vs PAC
The UPA government is adamant on getting the allegations looked into by a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) - an empowered parliamentary panel that is headed by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi. But the JPC is more powerful in itself as it can even put the questions before the Prime Minister which the PAC can’t.
Congress strongman Pranab Mukherjee, who has been known to resolve hurdles like this, has also put his hands up in despair. "I do not know how to resolve this impasse," Mukherjee said.
The logjam has also put a question mark on the passage of major government bills.
Though the government does not need a debate to pass a bill and it can be done with a voice vote, but it is not sure if this is the right time with the Opposition already flared up over the spectrum issue. The government is reportedly afraid it will bring in more flak from the Opposition.
The government has already said that a JPC probe is not required into the matter and the PAC should examine the issue first. Congress’ stand is also the same that the matter should be allowed to be looked into by the PAC.
Some leaders within the Congress have suggested that the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee should first go through the CAG report on 2G spectrum allocation and if it is not satisfied then other options can be explored.
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who has been given the charge of Telecom Ministry after the resignation of A Raja, said that the demand for a JPC probe has nothing to do with justice but only politics. "I do not concede that demand for JPC has any reasonable nexus with objective. It will be a platform for politics," he said.
Kapil Sibal also said that the government is willing for a Supreme Court directed probe since "CAG report is an opinion and not a gospel”. He also went on to say that the NDA government also did not agree for a JPC probe into the Tehelka expose in 2001.
Sibal further said that even the JPC will have to ask some agency to probe the charges as it can neither investigate nor decide criminal culpability. So, he wonders what is wrong with the probe being conducted by the CBI under the Supreme Court’s lens.
Joint Parliamentary Committee
A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is formed through a motion adopted by one House and concurred by the other, or, through communication between the presiding officers of the two Houses. The members are either elected by the Houses or nominated by the presiding officers. As in the case of other Parliamentary committees, they are drawn from different groups. The strength of a JPC may vary. For instance, one of the JPCs set up earlier comprised 15 members, while two others had 30 members each. The Lok Sabha share is double than that of the Rajya Sabha.
On August 6, 1987, the first JPC was formed to look into the Bofors controversy on a motion moved by then defence minister KC Pant.
Why Opposition demands a JPC?
The PAC or the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament automatically conducts a probe by examining the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), scrutinising the yearly accounts of the government. The PAC comprises 15 members from the Lok Sabha and seven members from the Rajya Sabha. The chairman of the PAC is usually a nominee from the main Opposition party. The PAC calls upon ministries to explain cases of financial irregularities.
But the Opposition’s argument on the 2G spectrum scam goes beyond any accounting errors. The powers of the JPC are wider and it can look into the entire gamut of allocation and the role of various players.
Once the JPC is formed the Opposition can keep the government on its heels by reporting of its proceedings on the floor of the House. So, if the government agrees to a JPC probe, it will mean that both PAC and JPC will probe the spectrum issue.
Powers of a JPC
The Joint Parliamentary Committee has the powers to obtain evidence of experts, public bodies, associations, individuals or interested parties ‘suo motu’ or on requests made by them. It can summon witnesses failing which, his/her conduct is considered to be contempt of the House.
Oral or written evidences and documents of importance can be called upon by the JPC. Usually, the proceedings of the JPC are confidential, but if the Committee thinks that the matter in hand is of high public interest it may share it with public. This was done during the “Irregularities in Securities and Banking Transactions” probe, when the chairman decided to breach protocol and briefed the press.
In a JPC probe, the ministers are exempted from being called upon to give evidence but again during the “Irregularities in Securities and Banking Transactions” probe, the Finance Minister and Health and Family Welfare were called in after permission from the Speaker.
Is the Opposition right?
On the one hand, the BJP has defended BS Yeddyurappa in a major land scam while on the other, it continues to hold the Parliament to ransom on the 2G spectrum allocation issue. It exposes the double standards of the main Opposition party. Parliament uses taxpayers’ money to function and with the logjam now stretching beyond two weeks, people’s money is simply going down the drain.
The logjam, which started with the Opposition seeking to ensure justice is done in the 2G spectrum scam, has now turned into a political tug-of-war and a mud-slinging match. If the highest court of the land is already looking into the matter, is it responsible behaviour of the Opposition to stall the Legislature when a number of important bills like the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Universities for Innovation Bill, Land Acquisition Amendment Bills etc. are waiting to be passed.
The present deadlock is a political tug-of-war that is part of ‘our’ democracy. Looking back at similar days of turmoil in the past, it seems only the actors have changed but the stage continues to remain the same.
However, the question is not just about the 2G spectrum scam. It actually is: Why does the Opposition (whichever party, it doesn’t matter) straightway stall the proceedings of the House whenever it seizes an issue.
The leaders are elected by the people so that they can take part in Parliamentary proceedings and get work done for them. Instead, the leaders just create a logjam and in the process the hard earned money of the people of the nation gets wasted.
Our politicians need to take note of the fact that people pay taxes from hard earned money. This money has to be respected; it is not their money which they can waste. The money should be put to better use than being wasted in logjams in Parliament, thereby throwing the development of the nation out of gear. The famous quote - ‘Of the people, For the people, By the people’, by former US president Abraham Lincoln - is mocked everyday in our Parliament. The taxes paid ‘by the people’ are used for wasted parliamentary sessions, and there is nothing in it ‘for the people’. The politicians are only making fools ‘of the people’.