Congress wants JPC probe in fighter jet deal, but the record is dismal, with committee recommendations usually kept hanging or rejected

New Delhi: The Congress has demanded the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the Rafale deal even as the BJP-led NDA government is vehemently opposed to the idea.

But history shows that the performance of most investigative JPCs set up over the last three decades has been dismal, with recommendations from many of them either kept hanging or being rejected.

ThePrint explains the workings of this parliamentary panel:

How Is A JPC Constituted?

Set up for a fixed duration and with a specific objective, a JPC is constituted through a motion adopted by either of the houses — the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — and agreed to by the other.

It can also be set up through a communication between the presiding officers of the two houses.

While the members are either elected by the houses or nominated by the presiding officers, their strength may differ from committee to committee.

If a JPC is unable to present its report before the expiry of its term or the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, the draft or preliminary report of the committee, if any, is passed on to a fresh committee that has to be constituted again.

What Does The JPC Do? 

A JPC is authorised to collect evidence on a matter it is investigating. Once a committee comes up with its findings, the government will decide if the document has to be withheld on the grounds that it is prejudicial to the safety or interest of the state. The government is not bound to accept the findings of a JPC.

A JPC is disbanded once it submits its report to Parliament.

The final word in case of a dispute over calling for evidence rests with the Speaker. Usually, ministers are not called to give evidence.

The Bofors contract in 1987, irregularities in securities and banking transactions in 1992, the 2G spectrum scam in 2011 and the VVIP chopper scam in 2013 are some of the crucial matters that have been investigated by a JPC.

What Have JPCs Done So Far?

The first JPC was constituted to investigate the Bofors scam on a motion moved by the then defence minister K.C. Pant in the Lok Sabha on 6 August 1987.

The committee, headed by B. Shankaranand, submitted its report on 26 April 1988.

Opposition parties, however, boycotted the JPC saying that it had a majority of Congress members. Its report was rejected on the grounds that it was biased.

The second investigative JPC was set up to probe irregularities in the securities and banking transactions after the Harshad Mehta scandal emerged. The recommendations of the JPC, headed by the then Union minister Ram Niwas Mirdha, were not fully accepted nor implemented.

The next investigative JPC was constituted to probe the stock market scam of 2001 under the chairmanship of a senior BJP member, Lt Gen Prakash Mani Tripathi (Retd). The committee handed in its report on 19 December 2002. It recommended several changes in stock market regulations, which were diluted later.

The Later JPCs

The fourth JPC, set up in August 2003, was to look into alleged pesticide residues in beverages such as soft drinks, fruit juice set safety standards. Headed by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, the committee submitted its report to Parliament on 4 February 2004.

The report confirmed that soft drinks did have pesticide residues and recommended stringent norms for drinking water. While the recommendation about National Standards Body of India was agreed by Parliament and the government, a report stated that the government had been delaying the soft drink standards.

Another investigative JPC was constituted in 2011 to investigate the 2G scam. It was headed by the Congress’ PC Chacko. Several opposition members, however, expressed their “no confidence” after the draft report gave a clean chit to the then PM Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

An amended report was finally submitted in October 2013, which concluded that Manmohan Singh was misled by then Communications Minister A Raja on the procedure to be followed by the telecom department in issuing the spectrum licence.

A JPC formed in 2013 to investigate the VVIP AgustaWestland chopper scam and the role of alleged middlemen in the transaction did not move ahead after it was rejected by the opposition, which demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe. Then opposition leader Arun Jaitley had said that the JPC would be a futile exercise. The JPC never took off after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

It is unlikely that a JPC in the Rafale deal would yield a concrete result, given that its term would expire before the dissolution of this Lok Sabha and the fact that the government is not bound to accept its recommendations.