Wednesday, December 22, 2010

JPC and Yes, a JPC

Since the last defunct parliamentary session, the opposition has created a huge furore - demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe to look into the recent spate of scams. 

Primarily the focus of this JPC, which might be aborted before conception, would be to probe the 2G scam. The gamut of the probe might include the CWG (Commonwealth games) scam too. The JPC has more powers – at least on paper – than the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament. While the PAC merely looks at the anomalies of the Finances approved by the Parliament, the JPC can look in to the sensitive issue of propriety. 

The PAC does not possess the legal ambit of summoning ministers beyond the ministry-in-question for interrogation. It works primarily on the basis of information provided by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office. Besides according to the rules of Parliament, the primary function of the PAC is to oversee the “expenditures of sums granted” by the Parliament for the Government of India. 

In the case of our honourable Indian Olympics Association head, the PAC can raise flags at the way the allocated funds have been spent inappropriately. But in the case of the 2G scam the scope of investigation is reduced manifold, mainly because technically speaking it was a revenue-generating tool used by the Government by selling radio frequency bands to telecom operators and not an issue of expenditure. This however does not mean that the PAC is toothless in the 2G scam investigation. The PAC can go into the fine area of a government deal which lies “beyond, the formality of expenditure to its wisdom, faithfulness and economy”, which it should and will. 

However in this case given the limitations of who can be interrogated, the investigation might hit a roadblock pretty soon, even worse it might end up accusing a handful for their excesses while the others go scot-free. Besides the functional nitty-gritties, what works in favour of the ruling party is the fact that the minutes cannot be made public as they unfold. It is only the Action Taken Statements of the govt and the Action Taken Report of the PAC, which can be made public post being tabled in the Parliament. Here the ruling party has the opportunity of delaying and procrastinating. Therein given the average attention span of the electorate and media which is equitable to a Goldfish’s memory, by the time the final Action Taken Statement is made Public their might be a bigger better scam for the taking.

A JPC on the other hand can spread its net wider and go into the larger gamut of allocation and look into the role of various players, not remaining restricted just to the ministry-in-concern. It has the right and mandate to interrogate anyone and everyone on any angle vis-à-vis the issue. The beauty of the JPC is that there is a possibility for the opposition to make the reportings/minutes of the probe, as they unfold, public without violating any code of conduct. Added to that if a particular person, which includes Her Majesty Madam (HMM-Sonia) and the PM, is summoned and if they do not turn up then it amounts to contempt of Parliament: which is a serious offence. Though in the JPC the speaker has the final say on the nature of summons issued, the refusal of one can provide the opposition with the required impetus to disrupt further sessions of Parliament without losing popular support in public.

Recently Manmohan Singh (MMS) said that if the PAC summons him he would be more than willing to appear. Then why does he have issues with the setting up of a JPC? Well the probable causes are more than many. The opposition can keep up the heat by constantly questioning the holy cows – cabinet, HMM and MMS all at once – and the constant reporting of their answers could render the image of the grand old party all the more gullible in public view. 

Historically speaking, the grand old party and the soul of the first chocolate boy of Indian politics are still reeling under the effects of JPC probe on the Bofors’ case. Given these causes, the perpetual aversion towards the formation of a JPC to look into the accountability and integrity of the ruling party. And it is this aversion that led to the setting up of a single judge committee to look into the 2G scam and it is this aversion that made MMS claim that he would jump protocol and be willing to be interrogated by the PAC. In fact the loose cannon of the grand old party (read: Digvijay Singh) has gone to the extent of publicly equating Advani and RSS with the Nazi Party in an apparent bid to dent the opposition’s image. Basically the ruling party is leaving no stone unturned to avoid a JPC.

So big deal! MMS is an honest guy with a pristine track record. How can the inquiry anyway affect his aura? Now this is where it gets a little tricky. Any kind of public/govt transaction beyond 500 crore rupees has to be approved by the cabinet (read: Prime Minister). So either he is a silent rubber stamp by the higher echelons of the party for their vested interests (which could range from coalition dharma to making a quick buck) or he is party to the corruption. In both cases the image of the institution as well as the image of Prime Minister MMS would be shattered. This might have an imminent domino effect for the future of the grand old party. I shall explain how.

There’s no denying the fact that apparently MMS has become the Brutus of Indian politics, taking a piggy back ride on whom the Cassiuses are going around stabbing the Caesar of Indian democracy (read: exchequer). Once the honour and integrity of MMS is put under the scanner, the dynasty will be running helter-skelter to find a potential seat warmer for the Octavius (read: Rahul Gandhi) in-waiting, after all there are too may Antonys-in-waiting within their fold. Simple isn’t it? 

Going by the precedence of multiple committees and probes the final verdict of which never saw the light of day, there is no guarantee that this would-be JPC will succeed in settling scores with the nexus of corrupt politicos and telecom operators. Nonetheless it will definitely help lift the veil of incompetence from MMS, which might reveal an uglier face of silent camaraderie with corruption.

P.S.: And of course since the PAC is a perennial Parliamentary committee, therefore setting up a JPC would effectively mean investigations by both PAC and JPC. Therefore a two pronged attack on the government. Lastly I deliberately did not mention the ongoing CBI inquiry because what the hell!!! who trusts them?

Pritish Mukherjee does not lambast the ruling party here, neither will he be benefiting by advocating a JPC. Still, he exhorts for a JPC. 

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