PAC can’t summon PM to answer note ban queries?

Times of India, January 14, 2017

Public Accounts Committee chair K V Thomas had to backtrack on his remarks suggesting PM Narendra Modi could be summoned to answer queries on demonetisation with the panel concluding that this is against rules.

The meeting of the PAC on Friday saw BJP members vehemently object to Thomas’s comments, arguing that he had quoted precedents incorrectly and rules governing financial committee do not permit calling ministers or the PM. They told Thomas that they will not allow the committee to function if Thomas did not correct his remarks.

Though Thomas initially insisted that he would not retract or offer any clarification, he finally agreed to BJD leader Bhartruhari Mahtab drafting a statement that said: “Ministers shall not be called before the committee either to give evidence or consultation in connection with the examination of estimates of accounts.” The committee noted that “however, chairperson, when considered necessary but after its deliberations are concluded, may have an informal interaction with the minister” but made it clear this was “informal” and that rules do not permit summoning of ministers or the PM.

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who had earlier written to Thomas protesting his comments, is understood to have said that the instance of C Subramaniam, agriculture minister in 1966, appearing before the panel was inaccurate.

Dubey said Subramaniam did not appear before the panel and had, in fact, offered to present himself. The MP pointed out that the case related to personal charges and there was a history of differences with then PAC chair R R Morarka.

Also, in the case of former PM Manmohan Singh being called before the committee, Singh had “offered” to do so. The then PAC chairperson M M Joshi did not actually seek Singh’s presence and Sushma Swaraj as leader of opposition did not support the move, BJP MPs are understood to have said.

BJP members pointed to President Pranab Mukherjee’s reaction — as finance minister — to Singh’s offer to appear before the PAC. Mukherjee had said that he would have advised Singh not to make such an offer as constitutionally the PM is accountable to the Lok Sabha and not any committee.

After around 90 minutes of heated discussions, Thomas agreed to the drafting of a statement clarifying the rules. This was done by a couple of senior members of the PAC and the matter was seen to be settled.

Sources pointed out that the rules were clear that should the committee feel the need to interact with a minister, a request is made to the Lok Sabha Speaker who can facilitate an interaction. This usually involves only the PAC chairperson though a request can be made to include all members of the panel in such an interaction.

It was also pointed out that former PM Manmohan Singh had appeared before a joint parliamentary committee on the stocks scam which was altogether different from the PAC.

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