JPC deepdive: The opposition parties-led by Congress have been vehemently demanding a JPC probe into the Rafale deal. Even after the judgment of the Supreme Court which said “There is no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the deal”, the demands for a JPC has only grown in size instead of getting subdued. So this brings in the question of what is a JPC and how can it help in bringing out any irregularities in the Rafale deal, if there was one, that the opposition is so hell-bent on it.
What is a Joint Parliamentary Committee?
The Parliament deals with a considerably varied and numerous subjects in its limited tenure under any government. Hence for closer scrutiny of legislative as well as other important matters various Parliamentary Committees have been formed for a detailed study of the same. These can be ad-hoc or standing committees as well as can be a select (either from Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha) or joint committee.
A Joint Parliamentary Committee or JPC is an ad-hoc committee formed with a specific objective and for a fixed duration of time. The objective can be of investigative nature or of legislative nature. Joint Parliamentary Committee can be set up, either, by adopting a motion which can be passed in any of the two houses of the Parliament and then it has to be agreed to by the other house, or if the presiding chiefs of both the houses communicate and reciprocate the need to form a JPC. The details regarding the membership and subjects on which the JPC will work is decided by the Parliament. It’s a usual practice that the members from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are appointed/selected in the ratio of 2:1 respectively.
Powers of JPC
A JPC has the power to extract evidence of experts, associations, individual, public bodies or any party interested in a request made by them or suo motu. Failing to appear before the JPC, after the summons have been issued, tantamounts to contempt of the house. The submission of evidence can either be oral or in the written form and the committee can demand any document related to the investigation or the legislation in question. Although the probe in a JPC is highly confidential but in special cases where widespread public interest is involved the chairman of the committee can brief the media about the deliberative process of the matter at hand.
Even after such extensive investigative powers, the recommendations prepared by the JPC cannot force the government of the day to take action on the basis of the report. The government may or may not decide to launch a fresh investigation on the basis of the report. Action Taken Report is the last resort of the JPC after the government files the follow-up action in reply to the JPC report but even this Action Taken Reports has only persuasive powers and the government can be held accountable only by asking questions on the basis of both the reports.
How many JPC has been formed till date?
There have been 9 JPC’s formed till date. Eight of these have been very popular as they have been a part of the public and media discourse like the Bofors Scandal, stock market scam, soft drink and pesticide issue and others.
Bofors Scandal 1987
The Bofors Deal made during the Rajiv Gandhi government was implicated with corruption charges which led to the formation of a JPC in 1987. This case saw a major role played by the then Defence Minister, V.P. Singh, who was having a tumultuous relationship with his Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The Chairman of this JPC was from Congress Mr B. Shankaranand, which submitted its report on 26 April 1988. This JPC had 50 meetings in all but its findings were boycotted by the opposition as it gave a clean chit to everyone involved in the deal.
Harshad Mehta Stock Market Scam 1992
This JPC was formed to look into the Irregularities in Securities and Banking Transactions after the Harshad Mehta scam was discovered. It was formed in August 1992 and was headed by Ram Niwas Mridha from the Congress. The recommendation of this committee was neither accepted in its totality nor was implemented. It was a coalition government led by the Congress and the motion itself was moved by Congress in Lok Sabha.
Ketan Parekh Share Market Scam 2001
In April 2001, the third JPC was formed to probe the Ketan Parekh Share Market scam which aroused widespread anger in the matter at least for the share market community which was cheated by the scam. The JPC was headed by Lt. Gen. Prakash Mani Tripathi (retd) of the BJP and it submitted its report in December 2002 after 105 sittings of the committee. This JPC had recommended extensive changes in the functioning of the share markets in India to bring in more transparency. Later on, many of the recommendations of this report were diluted and hence rendered ineffective. The ruling government at that time was that of the NDA headed by the BJP.
Pesticides in Soft Drink Issue 2003
In 2003 Pesticides in Soft Drink was a major issue in the public domain and hence a JPC was formed to look into the matter. The investigation headed by N.C.P leader Sharad Pawar found through the probe that the soft drinks companies and packaged water companies were deliberately using pesticides for longer upkeep of their products. 17 sittings were all the JPC took to submit its report, which was submitted in February 2004 and recommended stringent norms for packaged drinking water and soft drinks in India. But as has been the case, no action has been taken on the basis of the report of this JPC and this shows the futility of the whole exercise.
2G scam 2011
The allocation of the 2G spectrum during UPA-I (2008) under A Raja’s tenure was implicated with charges of corruption and has been one of the most talked about cases in the history of Indian politics as it brought down the Congress party to its worst performance in the Lok Sabha elections which were held in the aftermath of this scam. In February 2011 a JPC under the Chairmanship of PC Chacko was formed to probe the allegations which involved the name of the incumbent PM of the UPA government Manmohan Singh. PM Manmohan Singh himself announced the formation of the JPC. The JPC had 15 members from the opposition parties and these members even gave a memorandum of no confidence against the Chairman and the report of the JPC which gave a clean chit to the PM as well as the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. The report was given seven dissent notes from the member of the BJP, BJD, the CPI, the CPI(M), the DMK, the AIADMK, and the AITC.
Land Acquisition 2015
The Joint Parliamentary Committee set up to scrutinize the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015, was formed in 2015. The bill was opposed by the opposition parties as well as allies of the BJP as it intended to delete the consent clause from the earlier bill for acquiring land from private owners for rural infrastructure, defence, affordable housing, industrial corridors and public-private projects.
The JPC was headed by Chairman BJP MP SS Ahluwalia who was replaced by Ganesh Singh, a BJP Lok Sabha MP after Ahluwalia was made a minister. The JPC initially had 30 members and has been given several extensions. The interest of ruling government seems to have been dwindling in the bill as the JPC has already been given 8 extensions and the last meeting which was meant to be the 26th sitting of the JPC couldn’t even take off in February 2018, as it was short on the quorum. Only 6 MPs were present out of the total Members.
Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016
The JPC to examine the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was formed on 11 August 2016. The bill has been in controversy as it seeks to provide citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are non-Muslim. It intends to change the definition of illegal migrants. The chairman of this JPC is Rajendra Aggarwal, a BJP MP. The report of the JPC was adopted on January 3, 2019, and was tabled in the Lok Sabha on January 7, 2019 and the Citizenship bill was passed in Lok Sabha the next day but the same couldn’t happen in the Rajya Sabha as the last day was sine die over Rafale deal and a demands of forming a JPC on the same. AITC, Congress, CPI(M) and SP have submitted the note of dissent to the report of the JPC on the amendment bill.
Maintenance of Heritage Character and Development of Parliament House complex 2014
A JPC regarding the Maintenance of Heritage Character and Development of Parliament House complex was formed on 8 October 2014 by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan in consultation with the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, it had 6 members from both houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and at the time of the constitution of the JPC Sumitra Mahajan was the Chairperson of the JPC. Not much has happened with regards to this JPC which seems nearly dead without any further notification on the function of the JPC.
The reports of all the JPCs formed in India has not had any large scale impact on the issue at hand even than we see that the opposition parties and mainly the Congress party are adamant about the formation of a JPC. The reports of the JPC has only persuasive powers and cannot force the incumbent government to take any action and that too at the fag end of the term of the present government which shall result in the same fate for the JPC as was met out to the JPC on the VVIP chopper scam.
But another interesting fact, which is a sort of jinx attached to the JPCs, is that whichever government has ordered setting up a JPC has never returned to power in the next general elections and also it gives out a strong message to the electorates that the JPC had to be formed because there was something wrong with the whole process by which the Rafale deal was struck between India and France. Hence the question remains, whether the present government should have formed a JPC for probing the Rafale deal just for the symbolic value it offers of being an accountable government?