A meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on Friday saw committee chairman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and the BJP members crossing swords. Chowdhury proposed that the committee take up for discussion the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on various sectors, but the BJP members opposed it, saying the committee can take up only government expenditure audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)
With a majority of the members opposing his suggestion, Chowdhury had no option but to relent.
“I am sad. I am not accusing anybody…. When the entire country is reeling under the pandemic, the PAC cannot remain aloof and indifferent…. We could have contributed…” he told The Indian Express when contacted later.
Chowdhury, it is learnt, wanted the committee to discuss issues related to the pandemic, its impact on the MSME sector, and the issue of migrant workers.
But senior BJP leader Bhupender Yadav, it is learnt, opposed it and quoted Rule 308, under which the PAC is constituted. He said the committee can take up only government expenditure audited by CAG and should stick to pending business, it is learnt.
BJP’s Jayant Sinha is learnt to have said there are many reports — 125 of them — pending before PAC and it should expedite the process of going “in-depth” into them.
Friday’s meeting of the PAC was its first meeting in its 100th year, and citing that, BJP members are learnt to have urged Chowdhury not to set new precedents by taking up issues that do not come under its scope.
Chowdhury is learnt to have said that the committee had in the past taken up issues without a report of the CAG. He said the committee had taken up for discussion privatisation of Bailadila iron ore mines in 1995-96, pilgrimage to Sabarimala and human problems on ecology in 2003-04, and developments in the telecom sector, including allocation of 2G and 3G spectrum, in 2010. All these, he is learnt to have said, were without CAG reports.
Countering him, the BJP members pointed out that the issue of spectrum allocation was taken up by PAC to just direct the CAG to audit the 2G spectrum allocation. They said issues can be taken up only at the Lok Sabha Speaker’s direction, sources said.
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar is learnt to have said the current PAC is going through CAG reports of 2016-17. Pointing out that the impression of people about the panel’s efficacy could get affected, he said the focus of members should be on doing its job effectively rather than straying into other issues.
At one point, the BJP members said the chairman can hold a vote to decide.
When contacted, Chowdhury said the majority of members opposed it “on one pretext or the other”. In PAC’s record, he said, there are precedents when “various important subjects of national relevance had been discussed” – and report submitted to Parliament.
He said: “The PAC cannot remain itself confined to the CAG para. Yes, CAG para is the most vital, critical ingredient of it — without CAG we cannot proceed. But that does not mean PAC will be confined (only) to the CAG para. We enjoy that kind of freedom and autonomy; that is why PAC is called the mother of all committees. It is a microcosm of Parliament.”
However, he said, “I did not have the majority and I failed to convince the members. I told them our consensus should be driven by conscience…. It should be consensus driven by conscience, not by vote…”
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