Mukul Roy, who recently quit the Bharatiya Janata Party and joined the ruling Trinamool Congress, was made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the West Bengal Assembly, a post that traditionally went to an opposition member, on July 9. The BJP staged a walkout in protest against the appointment.
Addressing a press conference, Suvendu Adhikari, Leader of the Opposition who is from the BJP, said, “This is a known practice in all the Assemblies in the country and also in the Lok Sabha that someone from the opposition is made the chairperson of the PAC. Just as the government has the right to spend, the opposition also has the right to examine the expenditures; this is an important aspect of a democracy. But the Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly, by sheer force, destroyed this old tradition.”
Mukul Roy, who won from the Krishnanagar Uttar seat in the Assembly election on the BJP ticket, has not yet resigned as MLA even though he switched parties, allowing the ruling party to find a loophole by which they claimed that technically Mukul Roy is still a BJP MLA in the Assembly, and hence no convention or tradition has been broken by his appointment. Suvendu Adhikari pointed out that Mukul Roy’s name was not among those selected by the BJP and that Roy was nominated by a representative of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), an ally of the ruling party. “The reason for this move is that this government [Trinamool] wants to spend and also keep tab of the expenditure itself. This government has not tabled the CAG report in the Assembly. This government has not done the audit of the GTA (Gorkha Territorial Administration) since 2012-2013…. This government wants to ensure that the opposition party, elected by the people of the State, does not get to check its actions,” said Adhikari.
Sougata Roy, senior Trinamool leader and Lok Sabha member, acknowledged that it was indeed a tradition that an opposition member became the chairperson of the PAC, but added that there was no written rule that an opposition member has to be made the chief. “What is written is that the Speaker of the Assembly can appoint anybody chairman from the 20-member PAC body, and the Speaker’s power on this matter is absolute. It may have been a convention to make an opposition member chairperson, but it is not compulsory or binding in any way,” said Roy.
Not just the BJP, but other parties, including the Left and the Congress, too have expressed their dissatisfaction with the development. Sujan Chakraborty of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), pointed out that earlier too the Trinamool instead of appointing a member of the opposition had chosen Congress leader Manash Bhunia, who had all but officially joined the Trinamool. “This is anti-democracy, and it makes it very clear that the State government is scared of getting exposed for its financial irregularities. That is why it has appointed one of its own and this has brought disgrace upon the State,” said Sujan Chakraborty. He also pointed out that when Suvendu Adhikari was with the Trinamool he was “as delighted then as the Chief Minister is now when someone other than an opposition member was made PAC chairman.”
Trinamool Congress leader Manash Bhunia and Cabinet Binister Partha Chatterjee maintained that Speaker Biman Banerjee followed all the correct procedures and did not break any convention when he made his appointment. Partha Chatterjee said, “He [Roy] joined the Trinamool, but he is still a BJP MLA. On July 16, when he gives his speech, it will be determined where he belongs, but as of now he is a BJP MLA and the post should be given to an opposition member. So, as an opposition MLA and considering his experience in parliamentary politics, we welcome the Speaker’s decision,” said Partha Chatterjee.
Roy had joined the BJP in 2017, and had played a key role in the saffron party’s strong showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha election where it won 18 of the 42 seats. However, soon after the BJP’s humiliating defeat in the 2021 Assembly election, Roy was ceremoniously accepted back into the Trinamool fold. The question that remained at that time was what post would someone of Roy’s seniority and stature get. The Speaker’s appointment answered the question.