Joshi’s bid to reopen discussion on the report indicting top government figures sent back to the committee by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on the ground that the panel failed to formally adopt it was strongly contested by Congress members who said a Joint Parliamentary Committee was now examining telecom issues.
Congress MPs K S Rao, Jayanthi Natarajan, Jagadambika Pal, K Sudhakaran and Saifuddin Soz argued the report pertained to proceedings of the previous PAC that has been reconstituted while JPC is looking into licensing and spectrum issues. They said the draft report must remain just that.
But Joshi managed to keep the report “alive” with the help of Opposition members on the panel who said the Speaker had not issued any directions other than noting that the committee did not adopt it. BJD’s Bhartuhari Mahtab pointed out that there was no provision for the PAC to “reject” a report by a vote.
Interestingly, unlike the previous committee’s noisy April 28 meeting, BSP MP S C Mishra supported the Opposition view that the report be circulated afresh and amendments considered to ensure its unanimous adoption. Samajwadi Party’s Reoti Raman Singh, who along with BSP had bailed out the ruling party, kept quiet.
Bolstered by the addition to his ranks, Joshi said he would consult constitutional experts and get back to the committee, a clear indication that he is not giving up on trying to ensure the report is presented to Parliament even if it means diluting some of the sharp indictment of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram in his previous capacity as finance minister.
While Mishra clearly did not support Congress’s attempt to treat the 2G report as a closed chapter, Reoti Raman Singh did not express any view and later told the media that he reached late as his train had been delayed.
The BSP and SP turnaround seems linked to the approach of the Uttar Pradesh elections that make it difficult for the regional outfits to aid the Congress as the parties are locked in a serious political battle in the state. This evens the odds in favour of the Opposition despite the presence of 11 ruling coalition MPs in the 22-member committee.
The absence of any provision to reject the report in the committee rules has strengthened Joshi’s hand as he can argue that the panel is bound to adopt its findings and in the meanwhile keep the sword dangling above the ruling party.
Calling for a second look at the report, Opposition MPs expressed concern that a majority-minority argument militates against the consensual approach expected to guide the functioning of parliamentary panels. Congress MPs, however, pointed to Joshi’s comments accompanying the draft report complaining about their disruptive behaviour to argue that this did not indicate such thinking.
The view that decisions are to be settled by a vote did not convince all members, with some Congress MPs like Nirupam and Sandeep Dikshit also reportedly asking about precedents and wondering about the implications of the committee not acting by consensus.
As the report was not adopted by the committee, it lacked a formal endorsement by the Lok Sabha secretariat when it was sent to the Speaker accompanied by a covering letter from Joshi. This led the Speaker to return it to the committee as unfinished business that could not be tabled in Parliament despite the report being prepared by the secretariat and circulated to members.
The argument whether the committee, which has several new members, can consider the report afresh can be seen from both the Congress and Joshi points of view. But Joshi’s decision to consult experts means his sparring with Congress is far from over.