Government

Exclusive: Upset by Adverse Reports, Modi Wants Parliamentary Panel Heads Reined In

Under the constitutional framework, statutory committees are bipartisan and only accountable to parliament.

New Delhi: Perhaps haunted by the prospect of the ‘Rajan list’ of big businesses involved in bank loan fraud being made public, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lost his cool during the Bharatiya Janata Party’s parliamentary executive committee meeting recently. Modi wanted the chairs of key parliamentary committees spoken to – chairs who he said were repeatedly embarrassing his government.

The meeting of the BJP parliamentary executive committee was held on December 10, a day before the election results in which the ruling party lost three Hindi heartland states to the Congress.

Those present at the meeting included BJP president, Amit Shah, finance minister Arun Jaitley and other senior BJP leaders.

Modi was clearly not conversant with the constitutional framework which ensures that these statutory committees are bipartisan and only accountable to the parliament. In fact, the Estimates Committee chaired by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chaired by senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and the Committee on Public Sector Undertakings (COPU) chaired by BJP veteran Shanta Kumar find a mention in the constitution, which underlined their autonomy and watchdog role.

Modi is believed to be upset at the prospect of the Rajan list of billionaire NPA fraud cases, the GDP data fudge and the absolute lack of defence preparedness (comparable to 1962) which the detailed committee reports have revealed. More recently, a parliamentary committee has objected to the renewable energy cess being shared with states as part of GST proceeds. Any cess is constitutionally to be put in a separate public account to be used for the purpose it is meant for.

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Surprisingly, the rest of the BJP leaders heard Modi out in utter silence. It is noteworthy that Jaitley, who has been the leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha for years and is familiar with parliamentary practice and convention, did not contradict his leader.

It may be recalled, as first reported exclusively by The Wire, that railway minister Piyush Goyal and health minister J.P. Nadda had called on Joshi and asked him to go easy on the government. While the visit was billed as a courtesy call before Diwali, it was still seen as a major breach of protocol. “Imagine what the consequences would have been if ministers during Manmohan Singh’s tenure had tried to privately meet Joshi, who chaired the PAC on the 2G scam at the time,” an MP had told The Wire then.

The Modi government has repeatedly been embarrassed by the reports of parliamentary committees, specially the ones on defence preparedness and the GDP. The estimates committee also exposed the Modi government’s claims on it two flagship schemes, Swachh Bharat and the Ganga clean up.

Perhaps, the biggest embarrassment is the Rajan list, which directly indicts the PMO for not acting on a “coordinated investigation” against a dozen-plus billionaire defaulters.

In response to the Estimates Committee, Rajan sent a 17-page reply saying he had asked for action.
Post that, the Estimates Committee has sent two reminders to the PMO and the RBI to share the Rajan list. Both the PMO and RBI have refused to share the list or what action the Modi government took.

Says a senior leader, “The hubris and ignorance of Modi about institutional autonomy is unprecedented. No prime minister would have demanded that heads of parliamentary committees be subordinate to the government. Modi has taken no action on all the lacunae pointed out by the detailed reports, he is angry that it is public.”

A former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha told this reporter that these committees were autonomous and answerable only to parliament. “It would be a gross impropriety for the Modi government to try and influence the chairs of these committees.”

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Modi’s anger at the parliamentary chairs comes in the wake of the government’s interference in the 70-year-old autonomy of the RBI. Urjit Patel quit rather than be complicit in the whittling down of the central bank’s autonomy. The Modi government also carried out a post-midnight coup in the Central Bureau of Investigation, removing director Alok Verma who was reportedly all set to probe the Rafale deal. The Right to Information Act has also been watered down by the Modi government through repeated assaults.

Other parliamentary transgressions by the Modi government include the manner in which it has played with the definition of money bill in order to keep the Rajya Sabha from discussing important draft legislations like the Aadhaar Act.

One of the key issues that a re-energised opposition will raise in parliament in the current session will be the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Rafale deal.

With the BJP on the back foot after the recent assembly elections, the opposition, and even a section within the ruling party, is expected to up the ante on issues like the disclosure of the Rajan list – which assumes special significance after the new RBI governor has taken charge. The PMO and RBI both have the list which the parliamentary committee headed by Murli Manohar Joshi has repeatedly asked for.