Friday, April 15, 2011

Sharp exchanges at PAC meet

Sharp exchanges and differences of opinion in the Public Accounts Committee on Friday forced cancellation of Saturday's scheduled meeting at which Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair were to depose.

Congress and DMK members of the PAC questioned the need for their deposition before the committee since a Joint Parliamentary Committee had been set up to specifically look at allegations related to the 2G spectrum.

The heated exchanges forced CBI Director A.P. Singh to wait outside the meeting venue at Parliament House for several hours before leaving without being called to depose. Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, who was scheduled to appear in the afternoon, did not turn up as by then the PAC had decided to postpone his deposition. However, Law Secretary D.R. Meena, who also waited for several hours, did appear briefly.

The “office of PAC' had sent out some “questions” to journalists Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, who figured in the tapped conversations with corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. It seems the two have not yet got back to the PAC.

Some PAC members also found it odd that while editors Vinod Mehta of Outlook and Manu Joseph of Open were questioned by the PAC for publishing the Radia tapes, journalists allegedly used by Ms. Radia to further corporate objectives related to 2G were merely sent questions.

After every previous meeting of the PAC, Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi briefed the press. But not on Friday. The meeting decided there would be no briefing and Mr. Joshi simply walked away.

Earlier, some members had informally pointed out that contrary to the practice of the former PAC chairmen when deliberations were kept confidential till the finalisation of the report, Mr. Joshi had been calling press conferences after every meeting.

It was decided to hold the next PAC meeting on April 21. But, no one will depose that day as it is an “internal meeting” to sort out differences and arrive at some agreement on when and how to begin finalising the report.

It will also take a decision on calling more witnesses, including the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. It is said that Mr. Joshi is keen on finalising the report before April 30 when the term of the current PAC comes to an end, although on record he has stated that the PAC is an institution and its work is continuous, no matter members come and go.

Those opposed to calling more witnesses argued that the subject was now sub judice as a criminal inquiry was on and that the JPC was mandated to look at policy and related issues. They wanted to wind up proceedings and speed up with the report.

Those in favour of calling more witnesses pointed out that Ketan Parekh and Harshad Mehta, both accused (later convicted) in the stock market scam cases, had appeared before JPCs. But, oddly, Opposition MPs did not seem to favour calling the former Communications Minister, D. Raja, pointing out that since he was in jail, the procedure to summon him would be very lengthy.

Congress charge

The Congress MPs felt they were not being given a chance to ask any relevant questions and the Chairman was not interested in calling the prime accused and instead wanted more publicity and had hence trained his guns on the PMO.

The arguments became so heated that the chairman reportedly settled the matter by asking for a vote. Ruling coalition MPs of the Congress and the DMK were outnumbered.

After this Mr. Meena was called and briefly asked a few questions, reportedly relating to the Law Ministry being allegedly bypassed by the Communications Ministry (under Mr. Raja).


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