New Delhi, Feb 24: A Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G spectrum allocation issue, being dubbed by the opposition as the biggest scam in independent India, was set up today amid charges and countercharges between the Government and the Opposition.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee moved the motion for appointment of the 30-member Committee to look into the telecom policy pursued from 1998 to 2009 including the allocation and pricing of telecom licences and spectrum.
The Committee will also examine "irregularities and aberrations, if any" and the consequences thereof in the implementation of government decisions and policy prescriptions.
The Committee, which will give its report by the end of the Monsoon session of Parliament, will make recommendations to ensure formulation of appropriate procedures for implementation of laid down policy in the allocation and pricing of telecom licences.
Constitution of the JPC, with 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha, formally ends the deadlock over the issue which had washed out the entire Winter session of Parliament.
The debate on the setting up of the JPC led to a clash between the government and the opposition with the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj making a frontal attack on the Congress-led coalition for conceding the demand after a long time.
Moving the motion, Mukherjee said that lessons needed to be drawn by all concerned from the deadlock, suggesting that it was dangerous for democracy that Parliament cannot function till you concede to a particular demand.
"Parliament cannot be mortgaged to the conceding of a demand," he said warning if "hatred and disrespect for parliamentary institutions was generated, it would lead to the rise of extra-constitutional authorities" as had happened in a neighbouring country way back in 1958 when Martial Law was imposed.
At the outset, Mukherjee admitted his responsibility as Leader of the House for failing to carry the opposition with him on the issue.
He, however, said the NDA refused a JPC on Tehelka expose and the then Minister Arun Jaitley had said that a group of MPs sitting in a JPC cannot substitute discussion and debate on the floor of the House.
While Swaraj was critical of Mukherjee for dubbing opposition as "Maoists", the Leader of the House said the Left radicals dub Parliament as an "abode of pigs" and therefore wanted all concerned to act responsibly.
"Was our demand (for JPC) violent or unconstitutional," Swaraj sought to know from Mukherjee, referring to him at the same time as a very nice person who fails to distinguish between proper and improper when he gets angry.
At one point, Mukherjee reminded Swaraj that what he wanted was a debate to decide on JPC but the BJP was not ready.
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal sought to turn the tables on the BJP alleging that the opposition party was not interested in a debate and wanted a JPC without discussion as it was afraid that what had happened during their tenure would have been exposed.
This led to sharp protest from the opposition benches with several BJP members demanding that if such was the government's attitude then it should withdraw the motion itself.
The 2G spectrum scam, according to the CAG, has led to a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the government and the issue has become a major one for the opposition which has used it to target the government both inside and outside Parliament for the last few months.
In the wake of the CAG report, Telecom Minister A Raja was forced to quit and he is now in jail and the Public Accounts Committee, CBI and other agencies are going into the issue.
The 20 members on the Committee from the Lok Sabha are V Kishore Chandra S Deo, Paban Singh Ghatowar, Jai Prakash Agarwal, Deepender Singh Hooda, P C Chacko, Manish Tewari, Nirmal Khatri, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, T R Baalu, Kalyan Banerjee, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Harin Pathak, Gopinath Munde, Sharad Yadav, Dara Singh Chauhan, Akhilesh Yadav, Gurudas Dasgupta, Arjun Charan Sethi and M Thambidurai.
This is the first JPC to be constituted after the UPA came to power in May, 2004 and the fifth such committee being set up.
Sibal said if one looked into the history of BJP, one will find that whenever that party got an opportunity to attack constitutional authority, it had done so.
He said as per an estimate of CAG, during the NDA regime there was a loss of Rs 12,214 crore to the exchequer due to the allocation of spectrum.
Referring to his earlier press statement where he had dismissed the suggestion of the CAG that there was a presumptive loss of Rs 1,76,000 crore, Sibal said he said so because for allocation of spectrum of 6.2 Mhz, government had never charged any money from any telecom companies till 2003 as the spectrum was given free along with the licence.
He said the first-come first-serve policy was initiated by the NDA government and questioned who should be sent to jail -- like former Telecom Minister A Raja -- for alleged irregularities during the NDA government.
" ... if Raja gave spectrum free, he is a criminal. And, if their (NDA) minister did so, he is not," he argued.
When the opposition members strongly protested Sibal's statement, RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav said there was no point for a debate as the JPC has already been constituted.
Sibal then said he raised these matters as Swaraj cited several issue like alleged scams in Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Housing Society and hence he was "duty bound" to respond to the allegations.
Taking strong objection to Swaraj's allegation that the Prime Minister admitted compromising on corruption, Sibal said he had never said so.
"The Prime Minister has never said that government compromised on corruption. What he had said there was compulsion of coalition," he said.
Amidst repeated disruption and uproar in the House, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh dismissed Sibal's suggestion that the government had no say on the CAG report and said drafts of the CAG reports are always submitted to the government.
He said the Minister has "overstretched" the point and favoured the JPC probe to cover since 1998. "Let it be examined from 1998," he said.
Singh also said that he was very sad that one of his former colleagues -- A Raja -- had been sent to jail.
When Sibal reiterated his charge against the NDA regime which adopted the first come first serve policy, an angry BJP leader Yashwant Sinha asked the leader of the House to withdraw the resolution.
"I request the Leader of the House to take back the resolution on JPC. We don't want JPC, we don't want charity - 'Kiya hum bhikh maang rahe hain?'," Sinha said. PTI