Are the troubles over JPC over?

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NEW DELHI - The government’s decision to agree to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G scam may lead to another row - who will form the panel which can even question the Indian prime minister.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday promised in the Lok Sabha that the government will set up a JPC to study alleged financial irregularities in the allocation second generation spectrum - billed as one of the largest corruption scams in the country.

The announcement will be followed by a formal motion to be moved in the Lok Sabha by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal soon. It will be referred to the Rajya Sabha for approval.

Political parties are likely to fight it out over representation in the committee that will have members from both the houses - two-thirds from the Lok Sabha and the rest from the the Rajya Sabha.

Earlier JPCs had 21 members. The upper limit is 30 members.

The Congress, which initially was dead set against a JPC, will also have a tough task in making up its mind on naming a chairman of the panel.

The opposition is advocating a broader panel so that it can have wide political representation.

However, accommodating representatives of all 37 parties with members in the two houses seems impossible. But informed sources told IANS that groups with major representation, including the Left, which has a combined strength of 24 in the Lok Sabha, will get to be in the JPC.

The JPC has a mandate from the constitution empowering it to summon any agency and call in for questioning the prime minister. No other body other than courts enjoys such power.

What is a JPC:

It is a structured but ad hoc committee whose composition and functioning are governed by parliament.

It is set up to probe a specific issue and its duration is limited. Such a panel is set up by a motion passed in parliament. Its terms of reference depend on the motion. It is not limited to scrutiny of government finance.

Effectiveness of JPC: The mandate of a JPC depends on the motion constituting it. Its recommendations have persuasive value but it cannot force the government to take any action. Many past JPC reports have been ignored by governments.

The government can decide to conduct its own investigations on the basis of a JPC report. But it has to report to parliament on the follow-up action on the JPC recommendations.

A JPC report can recommend the prosecution or the change in government policies, for example, cancellation of 2G licence, but the government can disagree with the JPC and refuse to take such action.

Power: For a JPC to ask for any minister to testify depends on its terms of references, which usually allow it to question any government functionary, including the prime minister.

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