Government forms JPC to probe 2G spectrum, telecom policy

 | February 25,2011 10:40 am IST

Giving in to the opposition's relentless demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), the government Thursday formed a 30-member multiparty panel to probe alleged irregularities in the 2G spectrum allocation and to also look into the telecom policy from 1998 to 2009. This covers the governments of both the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).


Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee moved a motion in the Lok Sabha to set up a JPC that has been asked to submit its report by the end of the monsoon session this year - most likely by end August or early September.

It will have 30 members, including the chairman -- 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha.


The formation of the JPC, the fifth so far, is the government's effort to buy peace and let the crucial budget session function smoothly, unlike the winter session that was crippled by the opposition. It comes in the wake of opposition pressure for a parliamentary panel to investigate how second generation telephony spectrum licences were sold to telecom firms allegedly at throwaway prices that, according to the government auditor, caused a loss of Rs.1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer.


The Lok Sabha passed the motion through a voice vote but not before a heated debate over the delay by the government in forming the panel.


The house saw opposition and ruling MPs trading charges against each other for stalling parliament during the winter session following a stalemate over the JPC.


Initiating the debate, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj asked the government whether the opposition's demand for a JPC was unconstitutional.


Mukherjee replied that the government was never against a JPC probe into the 2G spectrum allotment but was of the view that the matter was being investigated by multiple agencies.


He said MPs "must find a way to express grievances without disrupting the proceedings of the house".

IT and Communication Minister Kapil Sibal got a lot of flak for alleging that Sushma Swaraj was skilful in presenting truth as false and the vice versa.


Several opposition members objected to the remark forcing Sibal to apologise and say he did not mean any offence.


"If parliament is not allowed to function, how can the house discuss the issue," Sibal said, replying to Sushma Swaraj's remark that the demand for "JPC formation was for introspection as scams after scams were tumbling out".


There were many acrimonious scenes in the house during the four-hour debate during which some 15 MPs spoke.


The panel will "examine policy prescriptions and their interpretation thereafter by successive governments, including decisions of the union cabinet and the consequences thereof, in the allocation and pricing of telecom licences and spectrum from 1998 to 2009", the finance minister said.


Mukherjee said the panel would also examine "irregularities and aberrations, if any, and the consequences thereof in the implementation of government decisions and policy prescriptions from 1998 to 2009".


The Congress has eight Lok Sabha MPs in the panel and BJP six. The Congress members include P.C. Chacko, Manish Tewari, Jai Prakash Agarwal and V. Kishore Chandra Deo.


From the BJP, the panel members include former ministers Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha.


Speaker Meira Kumar will nominate one of the members of the committee as its chairman.


The motion for the formation of JPC will now be referred to the Rajya Sabha for the approval and nomination of 10 members from the upper house.