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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Explained: When a Parliamentary panel red-flagged China

Revisiting a standing committee report on the 2017 Doklam standoff - the only detailed report on the India-China border issue that has been made available to the public.

Written by Liz Mathew , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 19, 2020 7:10:07 pm
Indian Army personnel wave the Tricolor near the Line of Actual Control at Chushul in Leh. Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi

Amid the on-going India-China border tension, a Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Sino-India relations post the Doklam standoff – prepared after border visits, intense discussions and testimonies from top officials of the external affairs and defence ministries – assumes significance as it is the only detailed report on the border issue that has been made available to the public.

Submitted by the Shashi Tharoor-led Standing Committee on External Affairs, the report on Sino-India relations including Doklam, the border situation and cooperation in international organisations, had cautioned the government that it needed to have “healthy skepticism” while dealing with China. The report was prepared after following “tough questions and frank assessment”, Tharoor said in a tweet on Friday.

Although the Opposition raised the Doklam stand-off in both Houses of Parliament, there was no detailed discussion in the House. However, the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made a statement on the issue saying the stand-off was a matter of concern, but that it would be solved in consultation with the concerned countries. In June 2017, the face-off at the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction – which began when PLA personnel entered Doklam in a bid to alter the status-quo thereby violating the understanding with both India and Bhutan – was resolved with the disengagement of border personnel.

This Standing Committee report – a bipartisan one as the committee has members from ruling and opposition parties – is one of the very few documents available in which the defence and foreign secretaries clarified the government’s official position on India-China border issues including the reported transgressions by the Chinese in the region.

What did the report state

During discussions over the Doklam stand-off, S Jaishankar, the then Foreign Secretary who is now the External Affairs minister, his successor Vijay Gokhale along with then Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra testified before the panel. The Defence Secretary had clarified to the committee, which was concerned about multiple reports that alluded to Chinese presence around the Doklam plateau and the possibility of similar incidents happening in the future, that PLA troops were within their own territory and there was nothing unsual about their deployment.

However, in the report, the MPs put on record their dissatisfaction. “Though the Government has categorically denied any Chinese activities near the actual face-off site, an ambivalent view has been expressed while confirming such activities for other areas in the Doklam plateau,” it said. The committee further noted: “Even if they have withdrawn their troops from Doklam for the time being, China’s strategic intentions should not be taken casually. The Committee would, therefore, urge the Government not to let its vigil down in order to prevent any untoward incident in future.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, BJP leaders Feroze Varun Gandhi, Swapan Dasgupta and current Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, NCP leader Supriya Sule, DMK’s M Kanimozhi and CPI-M’s Mohd Salim were part of the 31-member panel.

Parliamentary Committees

Apart from debates on bills and issues discussed and debated on the floor of the House, more detailed and in-depth discussions take place on issues as well as legislation in the parliamentary standing committees, in which MPs belonging to all major parties put forward their views without much consideration to the political differences they have.

Considerable amount of legislative work gets done in these smaller units of MPs from both Houses, across political parties and they function throughout the year on a range of subject matters, Bills, and budgets of all the ministries. These reports are tabled in both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. The Houses do not hold specific debate on the report, but it is often referred to during the discussions on the bills and the key issues. Committee meetings also provide a forum where Members can engage with domain experts as well as senior-most officials of the concerned ministries.

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