Hares and hounds

Print edition : May 20, 2011

PAC CHAIRMAN MURLI Manohar Joshi, after the committee's meeting on the 2G spectrum scam in New Delhi on April 28. - SUBHAV SHUKLA /PTI

The rejection of the PAC report on the 2G scam by 11 members raises questions about the UPA's seriousness in dealing with corruption.

THE inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament into the Rs.1.76-lakh crore 2G spectrum scam is turning out to be as unprecedented as the scam itself. The inquiry is also moving into hitherto uncharted territories and generating a high-voltage controversy. The 2G spectrum deals were characterised by violation of norms and rules, deviation from accepted procedures and, above all, political-corporate intrigues. The PAC inquiry too has been characterised by allegations of violations, deviations and skulduggery. In both, the role played by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has raised several questions about probity in political and administrative action.

The controversy over the PAC inquiry reached a high point on April 28, when its members met in Parliament with the stated objective of discussing the draft report. However, no discussion took place on the contents of the report. Instead, the meeting ended in chaos on account of the clamour generated by some members over the method adopted to prepare the report. Ultimately, 11 of the 21 members rejected the report. Nine of them belonged to the UPA, and they were supported by one Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member and one Samajwadi Party (S.P.) member. Ten members, belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal (United), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), gave their assent to the report.

While the UPA members alleged that PAC Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi, who belongs to the principal opposition BJP, had outsourced the report and leaked it to the media, the S.P. and BSP members stated that they could not agree to its passage as they did not get sufficient time to go through it. The 11 naysayers then went on to elect Saifuddin Soz of the Congress as the new PAC Chairman. Soz immediately took charge of his new role and conveyed the rejection of the report to the offices of the Lok Sabha Speaker and Murli Manohar Joshi.

Joshi pointed out that the appointment of the PAC Chairman was a prerogative of the Speaker and that committee members had no right to elect a new Chairman or remove the incumbent. He also added that the parliamentary convention was that PAC reports were adopted with a consensus in the panel.

According to direction 69(2) of the Speaker's direction, no committee can reject the draft report prepared by a committee. The direction demands paragraph by paragraph consideration of the draft report. If members have disagreement on any portion of the report, they are free to come up with amendments or write dissent notes, he told Frontline.

At the time of writing, Joshi was expected to submit the report to Speaker Meira Kumar, but the UPA, particularly the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), is of the view that the Speaker will reject it on procedural grounds since it was not passed in the PAC. In a letter to the Speaker, the UPA members expressed loss of confidence in the BJP leader, stating that he had scuttled democratic process in the PAC.

PAC MEMBERS SAIFUDDIN Soz and Naveen Jindal (left) talking to the media outside Parliament House on April 28.-SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Kalraj Mishra, a BJP member of the committee, told Frontline that a PAC report had never been rejected in the history of the Indian Parliament and that the Congress and its UPA partners had flagrantly violated parliamentary procedure just because the report castigated the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) about the 2G spectrum allocation scam and indicted Home Minister P. Chidambaram and A. Raja, the former Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, who was removed from office and arrested for involvement in the spectrum allocation.

One had sensed moves to scuttle this inquiry right from the period PMO officials were summoned to appear before the PAC. The Congress and DMK members raised a hue and cry and literally prevented it. An investigation into the manner in which the S.P. and the BSP members have turned around to support the rejection of the PAC report would also unravel some unseemly political and administrative skulduggery, he said.

As the allegations fly back and forth, the PAC inquiry and the games behind it have invited greater public attention. The Speaker's role and her adjudication have become crucial to maintaining the sanctity of a time-tested parliamentary institution.

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN Singh addressing civil servants on Civil Services Day in New Delhi on April 21.-RAMESH SHARMA/BLOOMBERG NEW

Interestingly, the allegations about scuttling a probe by a parliamentary committee has come at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been talking about his government's resolve to deal with the issue of corruption. The latest instance was his address to a conclave of civil servants on April 21, when he said there is a growing feeling in the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption and we must recognise that there is little public tolerance now for the prevailing state of affairs.

He also pledged greater transparency in administration and in the process of privatisation of state-run utilities and called upon civil servants to stand up boldly against any political pressure aimed at unfair practices. He told the civil servants specifically that they could contribute in many meaningful ways, with renewed energy, to the fight against corruption.

The developments in the following week, which culminated in the imbroglio at the PAC meet, however, showed that despite the high-sounding rhetoric and the message of determination that it sought to convey, the government and the Congress were only adopting half measures with regard to unravelling the truth and punishing the guilty. An analysis of certain proactive steps taken in the recent cases of corruption points to the primacy of political considerations in conducting inquiries.

Apart from the chaos at the PAC, the period was marked by two other developments the arrest of Congress Member of Parliament and sports administrator Suresh Kalmadi by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) following its inquiry into the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam and the inclusion of Kanimozhi, DMK Rajya Sabha member and daughter of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, as a co-conspirator in the CBI's supplementary charge sheet on the 2G spectrum scam.

Technically, the arrest of Kalmadi and the naming of Kanimozhi in the charge sheet were unrelated events that happened on the same day as part of two different cases and two distinct investigations. Kalmadi was arrested on April 25 on the charge of causing a loss of Rs.95 crore to the exchequer by awarding illegal contracts to a Swiss firm for the Timing-Scoring-Result (TSR) system for the CWG.

SURESH KALMADI, THE former chairman of the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games, being escorted to the Special CBI court in New Delhi on April 26.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Kanimozhi was named in the charge sheet for the diversion of Rs.214 crore from Swan Telecom, a partnership firm of businessman Shahid Balwa, to the Karunanidhi family-owned Kalaignar TV, of which Kanimozhi is an important shareholder.

The two developments generated considerable discussions in political circles in the national capital and outside. The discussions essentially revolved around the equations between the DMK and the Congress in the light of the 2G scam investigation. The DMK leadership's compelling need to keep Kanimozhi and Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal, who holds 60 per cent stake in Kalaignar TV, out of the ambit of the 2G investigation formed the core of this discussion. The focus on this aspect was so intense that at one point there were suggestions from within the DMK that the party would sever its relations with the Congress and the UPA if Kanimozhi and Dayalu Ammal were named in the charge sheet.

It is in this context that the arrest of Kalmadi and the naming of Kanimozhi in the charge sheet took place. Obviously, the arrest of Kalmadi, who was also the chief of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) until that day, was perceived as a measure to soften the blow on the Congress. In any case, Kalmadi's arrest in the CWG scam case was long overdue, and this was highlighted by the principal opposition parties.

Leaders of the BJP and the CPI(M) point out that the action against Kalmadi was also aimed at rationalising before the DMK how the government, particularly the Home Ministry, had not been to able exercise any extra influence or pressure on the investigating agencies. Despite these political connotations, the actions against Kalmadi and Kanimozhi have added some value to the ongoing investigations into corruption scandals.

But the UPA has been thoroughly exposed following the manner in which its PAC members reacted to the draft inquiry report on the 2G scam. Obviously, the developments on April 28 do not mark the culmination of the debate on the PAC inquiry or even a final point in the inquiry itself. This is expected to roll on politically and, in the process, embarrass the Prime Minister's seemingly impassioned exhortations to civil servants to fight corruption.

The state of affairs also indicates that the monsoon session of Parliament will be stormy, especially so in the context of the promise of Manmohan Singh and his Ministry to civil society activists led by Anna Hazare that the government would present the Lokpal Bill, which is committed to control corruption in high places. Questions will naturally be asked about the sincerity and commitment of the UPA government on this front when its MPs are perceived to be bent upon obstructing the work of a parliamentary committee that has been assigned the duty and responsibility of probing and exposing corruption.

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