Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by Congress member K V Thomas, has taken up the CAG report on the contentious AgustaWestland issue apart from going into over half-a-dozen other defence-related issues.
Acquisition of helicopters for VVIPs is one of the 100 subjects based on various reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), pertaining to several ministries and departments that the panel will examine.
In the first meeting of the newly-constituted PAC, a strong demand was made by members of BJP to take up the CAG report on the VVIP chopper deal.
Signalling a political tug of war ahead, the first meeting of PAC on May 18 had seen a strong demand from BJP members to take up the AgustaWestland issue while a Congress member had asked the parliamentary audit panel to examine the implementation of the prime minister’s pet ‘Make in India’ scheme.
In the meeting that was called to decide on subjects to be taken up during its one year-tenure, Vijay Goel (BJP) said the PAC should take up the 2013 CAG report on “irregularities” in the VVIP chopper deal.
The demand was also supported by BJD’s B Mahtab, who said there should not be any bar on PAC taking up even those issues that are being investigated by agencies like the CBI or those pending before the courts.
Mahtab also said PAC had looked into CAG reports on coal block allocation.
The issue has led to a huge controversy during the recently-concluded Budget Session of Parliament with members from Congress and BJP sparring over the incident for days.
While the government vowed to track down the main beneficiaries of the kickbacks so that “we can do” what “we could not do in Bofors”, Congress said it was ready to face a probe that is monitored by the Supreme Court.
On the AgustaWestland issue, CAG had submitted a report in August 2013, concluding that the process, from framing of quality requirements to the conclusion of the contract of the VVIP choppers, differed from established procurement procedures.
The report came before PAC of that time, which was then headed by BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, but it did not take up the issue.
The argument of Congress members is that PAC Chairman could have taken up the issue then had there been anything substantial to pin-point bribing of any politician.
Sources had said BJP members were keen to discuss the VVIP chopper deal issue and they were also in a mood to seek voting in the committee if Congress members were disinclined to take it up.
The panel has also continued with its inquiry into some aspects of 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scam and the issue of burgeoning Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of public sector banks, which had been gone into by the last PAC, whose term ended on April 30.
Besides the 100 issues, the key parliamentary committee has also selected seven other issues on suo motu basis.
These include scrutiny of public expenditure under non-lapsable central pool of the Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Affairs, Indian Infrastructure Debt Funds and recent developments in the telecom sector, including allocation of 2G and 3G spectrum.
The other issues include Border Area Development Programme of the Home Ministry, modernisation of railway stations and bad debts in public institutions.
When committee takes up cases on a suo motu basis, it does not have to wait for the report of the CAG or takes up an old report to ascertain new developments in the issue.
One of the 100 important issues taken up by the panel is UPA’s flagship MNREGA scheme which the present government has also decided to continue. The other subjects are: status of ongoing projects of the Indian Railways, performance of weapon manufacturing factories, the functioning of Army Aviation Corps and fire accidents in coaches of Indian Railways.
Some of the 100 subjects selected by PAC have been carried forward from the last year as the panel could not give its report in the last fiscal.