In a bid to keep the heat on the Congress over the Agusta-Westland helicopter deal, the BJP wanted the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to take up the matter in its first meeting held Wednesday. The PAC chairman — Congress’s K V Thomas — however is learnt to have opposed the move, saying the CAG report on the issue had come up before the panel in 2013, when it was chaired by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
At the PAC, which met for the first time after it was reconstituted, Trinamool Congress (TMC) member Sukhendu Sekhar Roy questioned the propriety of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Shashi Kant Sharma looking into alleged irregularities in the defence deals as he is a former defence secretary. When Roy raised the issue, Sharma was present before the PAC for the customary briefing, sources said.
Sharma, a 1976-batch Bihar cadre IAS officer, joined the defence ministry in 2003 as a joint secretary. He held the post of director general (acquisition) in the defence ministry in 2007-10, and became defence secretary in 2011. The BJP had opposed Sharma’s appointment as the CAG. Overruling the objections, he was made CAG in May 2013, replacing Vinod Rai, with a tenure of up to September 24, 2017.
At Roy’s objection, committee chairman Thomas reportedly told the members that all issues concerning his appointment was already before the authorities which had selected him as the CAG. Besides, his appointment was examined by the highest court of law, Thomas is learnt to have told the committee.
The Supreme Court in February 2015 had upheld a Delhi High Court order that dismissed a petition seeking quashing of Sharma’s appointment, saying it could not meddle with the constitutional procedure.
Sources said BJP MP Vijay Goel raised the Agusta issue at the meeting, saying that the PAC must examine the CAG report on Agusta in the wake of the recent controversies over the chopper deal. Stating that the matter had already come up before the committee in 2013, Thomas, however, asked the members whether they could point out any additional information in the case. Thomas is also learnt to have said that the matter is already under probe.
Supporting Goel, Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab said there should not be any issue in the PAC examining such matters, including those being probed by investigating agencies or being looked into by courts. He cited the coal scam as precedent.
Trinamool’s Roy said the committee should take up the CAG report on purchase of trainee aircraft, in which the audit watchdog has found certain irregularities.
On the issues that the committee has to take up in its future meetings, BJP’s Kirit Somaiya wanted to examine the issue of non-performing assets of banks, and Congress’s Shantaram Naik wanted the issue of PPP model to be taken up. The private firms had opposed a CAG audit into the expenses in PPP projects. The chairman, sources said, felt the government has to take a view on whether there should be a provision to let a CAG audit into PPP projects.
The PAC has 15 members from the Lok Sabha and seven from Rajya Sabha. Among the members are Anurag Singh Thakur, Nishikant Dubey, Janardan Singh Sigriwal, Riti Pathak, Abhishek Singh, Shivkumar C Udasi from the BJP, Sudip Bandyopadhyay (TMC), Prem Singh Chandumajra (Akali Dal), nominated MP from Kerala Richard Hay, Gajanan Chandrakant Kirtikar (Shiv Sena), Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD), Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland Peoples Front) and P Venugopal (AIADMK).