Joint Parliamentary Committee Chairman P C Chacko on Thursday decided to refer to the Lok Sabha Speaker the demand to summon Finance Minister P Chidambaram as a witness before the panel on the 2G scam.
"According to past precedents and rules, members of a committee must pass a unanimous resolution to call a minister. The request is then sent to the Speaker for a final ruling as rules do not permit calling a minister before a committee for either giving evidence or consultations," said Chacko.
"But in this case, since there is no unanimity on calling the finance minister, I have decided to refer the matter to the Speaker, which is allowed under rules. I will refer the
matter of calling of a minister. There is no precedence to call the prime minister," Chacko said after Thursday's meeting.
The decision was taken even as the six Bharatiya Janata Party members in the Joint Parliamentary Committee, who had been boycotting the meetings after accusing Chacko of not taking a decision on their demand to call Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram, stayed away from the proceedings.
While BJP has been demanding calling Dr Singh and Chidambaram before the JPC, Left Front's members in the panel Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta and Communist Party of India Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury on Thursday made a strong pitch to call the finance minister.
In a strongly worded letter to Chacko on behalf of his party colleagues, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said, "We have strongly demanded that in order to arrive at the right
conclusions, the Committee must record the evidence of the prime minister and the finance minister. Their appearance before the Committee, in view of their role in the decision making process, is absolutely necessary."
Responding to the letter, Chacko said except for the BJP, no one else has demanded calling the prime minister as a witness.
"Even the CPI and CPM said they do not want to call the PM, but only the finance minister. BJP knows it is not in the rules to call PM, it is a political decision," he said.
Chacko also rejected Sinha's accusation -- that he was not taking a decision on finalising the list of witnesses to be called before JPC.
"I am going to respond to the letter today. I will recall in the letter that two meetings of the committee were devoted for the purpose," he said.
Before Thursday's meeting began, Dasgupta handed over a letter to Chacko, demanding that Chidambaram be called as a witness.
Dasgupta said the finance minister will be able to explain his ministry's "inability to prevent the department of telecom from unilaterally going ahead with the allocation of 2G licences in spite of opposition from various quarters."
He also said as the finance minister, Manmohan Singh had deposed before the JPC on the securities scam in the 1990s.
"This may effectively nail down suspicion and can bring out that there is no impartiality on part of the JPC to conduct a neutral inquiry," Dasgupta wrote in the letter.
His letter comes after a similar demand was made by CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury in the September 18 meeting of the JPC.
Samajwadi Party leader Shailendra Kumar asked Chacko to take an early decision on the issue so that the JPC could proceed further.
"The chairman should inform the Speaker about the various opinions members have on the issue," he is learnt to have said.
On the issue of precedents in calling a minister, Chacko said the JPC on securities scam, headed by Ram Nivas Mirdh, had written to the then Speaker Shivraj Patil. Patil had agreed to call then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh but mentioned in the ruling that it should not be used as a precedent.
He said if the present finance minister has to be called, then all finance ministers - including BJP leaders and JPC members Sinha and Jaswant Singh since 1998 -- have to called in chronological order.
"If they appear as witnesses, then they can't sit on judgment," he said, adding that Singh and Sinha were ready to appear as witnesses.
During the meeting, Congress leader Manish Tewari demanded that the controversial Niira Radia tapes be made available to JPC and corporates be summoned as witnesses.
"I heard him mention about the transcript of some tapes. Whatever it is -- I could not grasp the word Radia -- should be made available to the Committee. We can't have those, who made profits, sermonise to the committee on the 2G issue," Chacko said, virtually ruling out calling corporate honchos.