Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Will JPC on 2G spectrum get to the truth?

New Delhi: The long discussed joint parliamentary committee (JPC) into the allocation of 2G spectrum is finally in shape. But some experts are sceptical about the outcome of the panel that had polarised parliament while others feel the truth behind India's biggest corruption scandal can now be revealed.

Leaders of the ruling Congress, which buckled in the face of intense pressure from the opposition that stalled parliament's winter session, were optimistic as was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which fought tooth and nail for setting up the JPC.

However, some Left leaders and parliamentary experts were cautious about the 30-member multi-party panel that will probe the allotment of spectrum at below market prices, estimated to have cost the exchequer billions of rupees and led to the jailing of ex-communications minister A. Raja. 

PJ Kurien, a Congress Rajya Sabha member who was Tuesday named as one of the members of the fifth JPC in Indian parliamentary history, said the panel would "go very deep in the matter". 

The panel, he said, would get to the truth. He also indicated that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has stated that he was ready to appear before a parliamentary probe panel, would be summoned. 

"The JPC can call anyone and ask for any evidence," Kurien told. 

His colleague in the Rajya Sabha, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, said the party was "happy that the JPC demand has come through, though late". 

"We are optimistic that the wisdom of the parliament will track the truth. We should trust the democratic systems." 

Communist MP Gurudas Dasgupta, who was a member of the 1992 JPC probing the Harshad Mehta securities scam and is in this one too, was noncommital. 

"I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic... I will do my work in the JPC to unearth the facts because I believe this is an effective investigative mechanism available to parliamentarians." 

But there were others who had doubts. 

Constitutional expert and three-time Lok Sabha member Sebastian Paul said the "outlook is rather pessimistic, especially based on past experience".

"With the nature of the politically contentious 2G spectrum issue, I doubt whether a majority-based, let alone a unanimous, report will be finalised," Paul told over phone from Kochi. 

In 1987, he recalled, parliament was stalled for 45 days over the demand for a JPC into the Bofors gun payoff issue. But when it was formed, the same opposition boycotted the panel, alleging that it was packed heavily with Congress MPs. 

Subhash Kashyap, former secretary general of Lok Sabha, is another pessimist. "It all depends upon the approach of the members," Kashyap said. 

"If the members rise above the party politics and probe the issue in national interest, the truth will come out. Otherwise, the panel itself will be a forum for political battle," he said. 

Kashyap also recalled the Bofors JPC. "The same people who had demanded it, boycotted it later." 

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director Sunita Narain, however, looks back on the 2003 JPC looking into pesticide content in soft drinks with satisfaction. 

"The JPC endorsed our study that there was unacceptable level of pesticide content in the colas and soft drinks," Narain said. 

Following the JPC report, the government set up standards to limit the pesticide content in soft drinks.

While the chairperson of this JPC will be announced this week, the Lok Sabha has named its 20 MPs and the Rajya Sabha its 10. The members include Kishore Chandra Deo and PC Chacko (Congress), Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh (BJP) from the Lok Sabha. 

The Rajya Sabha members include P.J. Kurian and Jayanthi Natarajan (Congress), Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) and Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M). 

Their mandate will be to get to the truth of the 2008 spectrum (airwaves) allocation by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The issue exploded last year with the Comptroller and Auditor General indicting then minister Raja for irregularities. 

Will this JPC be successful or be another platform to air political differences? The coming weeks will tell which way it goes. 

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