UPA, opposition spat in PAC leaves 2G hearing in limbo (Lead)

April 15th, 2011 - 9:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) The appearance of top officials from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the 2G spectrum issue hangs fire after a spat Friday between members of the ruling party and the opposition over the panel’s mandate.

Due to heated arguments, Central Bureau of Investigation Director A.P. Singh and Attorney General G.N. Vahanvati who were summoned Friday had to return without deposing before the panel, sources in the high-powered committee said.

There were sharp differences between members of Congress and DMK on one side and the opposition led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the other over the overlap of PAC’s probe with the task mandated for the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and whether it was prudent to summon senior officials from the PMO.

The Congress and DMK members also took exception to PAC chairman, BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, not summoning former telecom minister A. Raja to give him an opportunity to be heard and defend himself.

The panel had summoned Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar and prime minister’s Principal Secretary T.K.A. Nair to appear before it Saturday.

A.P. Singh and G.E. Vahanvati, who had reached parliament house complex to appear before the PAC, waited for a couple of hours before going back without facing the panel.

Since Congress members K.S.S. Rao, Naveen Jindal, Jitendra Singh and Aruna Kumar Vundavalli, joined by DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, opposed Joshi calling witnesses, the panel had to take recourse to its rule book and call for voting to decide on the matter.

When the Congress-DMK members opposed the move, seven opposition members including the BJP’s Yashwant Sinha, Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab and AIADMK’s M. Thambidurai voted in favour calling in the summoned officials to depose, sources said.

Law Secretary D.R. Meena, who was waiting outside, was called in to depose, but the Congress and DMK members continued to raise their issues and disrupted the hearing, they said.

“There was also a suggestion that telecom companies’ officials, including Bharti Group’s Sunil Mittal, should be summoned, apart from seeking their balance sheets,” sources added.

Following the verbal dual at the meeting, Joshi did not address a press conference. “The Committee has decided not to have a press conference,” he told reporters.

The PAC will now meet April 21 to decide on summoning more witnesses, following which it will convene again on April 25 and 26 to continue the proceedings.

The PAC has 22 members - seven from the Congress, four from the BJP, and two each from the AIADMK and DMK.

Soon after the four-hour-long PAC sitting ended, the Congress reacted strongly to the day’s development, saying it had already warned of the overlap between the PAC and JPC probes and asked the chiefs of the two parliamentary panels to sort out the jurisdiction issues first.

“No question of us commenting on individual members. It is for members and the chairman of the committee to resolve themselves, or for the speaker to intervene,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

He was responding to a question about the Congress and DMK members raising the issue of jurisdiction during a PAC meeting.

Singhvi said when the opposition was pressing its demand for a JPC, the Congress had warned that it could lead to multiplicity and overlap. “But they were accusing us of obduracy…The matter has come full circle now,” the Congress spokesperson told reporters.

BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad, on the other hand, said the Lok Sabha speaker had alredy given her decision on the two parallel probes by PAC and JPC, and it was not appropriate to make any comments on it now.

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