PAC cauldron bubbles

Public memory is not quite so short that we cannot remember how the entire Winter Session of Parliament was washed out due to the Opposition MPs, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left, trooping to the well of both the Houses of Parliament and chanting slogans demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) into the 2G spectrum allocation issue.

In vain did the government and the parliamentary affairs minister argue that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, headed by senior BJP member Murli Manohar Joshi was already seized of the matter and was examining it. The Prime Minister himself offered suo motu to appear before the PAC, and the government even offered the services of the investigative agencies to the PAC. But the Opposition was not satisfied. They insisted that the PAC was only a “technical” committee and had no real powers to go into the spectrum issue. They swore that only a JPC could do the job, and nothing else would satisfy them. They even taunted Congress members in the House, asking why the Congress had suddenly “adopted” Murli Manohar Joshi, in the process indirectly indicting their own leader as either incompetent or unworthy.
When the entire Winter Session was wiped out, and the democracy of our country reached a dire state, the government agreed to the demand for a JPC, if only to allow Parliament to function again, and to restore credibility to the functioning of Parliament in the eyes of the people. Thus the JPC was constituted. In the process, the Opposition did enormous damage to the institution of the JPC by bringing into contentious debate one of the most important committees of Parliament. However, the public denigration of the PAC did not deter, the Opposition wanted to score political brownie points against the government and ensure that a JPC was constituted. In this process, a question repeatedly asked by some people, including me, was: How exactly was the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) report leaked to the public, even before Parliament met? How did the CAG report on 2G get leaked to newspapers before it was even tabled in Parliament? How could it possibly be an authoritative report unless it had been properly examined by the PAC? Was not the timing of the leak of the CAG report significant, inasmuch as it happened one day before Parliament was due to meet? Should there not be an inquiry into how the CAG report was leaked to the media, and why? Should not accountability be fixed for the leak of the CAG report? Significantly, until today, there are no answers to the above. There has been no inquiry into how the CAG report was leaked before being tabled in Parliament and how it reached the public domain. Of course, there are those who would argue that the issue lies in the content of the report, not in whether and how it was leaked. To them my answer is simple.
The contents of the CAG report are now being probed in at least seven fora, including the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate. One Cabinet minister resigned and is in Tihar jail. Others have been chargesheeted and the whole is being monitored by an extremely acerbic and vocal Supreme Court. Therefore nothing is really left undone, and this United Progressive Alliance government has done far more to fight corruption than any Opposition government has ever done. However, we still do not know how and why the CAG report was leaked. To my mind, as citizens, we have a right to demand transparency on the leakage of the report, as much as we have a right to demand a free and fair investigation into the allegations themselves, and the assurance that the guilty will be punished.
Therefore I say, how come so much is happening on the probe into the allocation of spectrum, but the question of the leak of the CAG report has become a closed chapter? And, I ask myself, why should this be so? At this time I cannot help but cast my mind back to another very convenient CAG report on Bofors, which, too, was made public at a sensitive time, the conclusions of which stand unproved (in fact dismissed by court), until today, 22 years later.
And now the leak of the PAC report. Who leaked the draft report of the PAC? As any novice can tell you, it is not even a report until it has been discussed by the entire PAC and adopted or rejected. Therefore, who leaked the draft report? The chairman of the PAC cannot evade his responsibility by simply denying all knowledge, especially after he eagerly rushed to the media after every meeting of the PAC and made public its discussions after every meeting, something which was hitherto unknown in parliamentary history. The BJP and the Left conveniently target the Congress now and accuse it of attacking institutions. They say that the institution of the PAC has been politicised by the Congress because the Congress and other members wanted the chairman to explain the blatant falsehood in the “report”, which quoted the evidence of senior bureaucrats who had not even appeared before the PAC, so grossly false and motivated was the draft report. It was, in fact, the duty of the PAC members to point out such blatant falsehoods in the report, and when the chairman walked out of the meeting, all they did, completely in line with the rules of procedure, was to elect one among the members present as chairman for the meeting and proceed with it. Those who say that a Rajya Sabha member could not have been elected are simply unaware of the facts. The convention undoubtedly is that the chairman of the PAC is elected from the main Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, but under the rules, there is clear provision for members to elect one from among themselves to chair a particular meeting and to carry on the discussion.
The spectrum issue is being investigated and probed at various fora. And the guilty will be brought to book. The question now is who leaked the PAC report? Can the BJP and the Left answer?

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this column are her own

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