Meandering on

The joint parliamentary committee probing the 2G spectrum allocation, set up after bitter bargaining between opposition and government, seems to be unravelling rapidly. The BJP has expressed its unhappiness with the JPC's refusal to question either the prime minister or the finance minister, and boycotted meetings. CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta walked out of the meeting, JPC chairman P.C. Chacko has left it to the speaker's wisdom. Eighteen months after it was set up, the JPC has achieved little, having been caught up in partisan bickering.

At least part of the reason is that this kind of detective work is best left to professionals it diverts parliamentary attention, which should be reserved for legislative matters, issues of oversight and representation. In the last quarter of a century, only four investigative JPCs have been set up, apart from the ongoing one on 2G the Bofors probe in 1987, on the two stock market scams of 1992 and 2001, and on the question of pesticide-tainted colas in 2003. None of these amounted to much. The experience so far of the 2G JPC would seem to confirm the sense that they inevitably become an arena for political grandstanding. Meanwhile, all the forward movement on the 2G issue has come from other quarters, the investigative agencies and the courts.

The JPC is meant as an opportunity for MPs across parties to directly question witnesses, access documents and briefings, and grill the government. It has also been pointed out that professional investigative agencies, which include state CIDs, the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI, have a record of being swayed by official pressure. Judicial commissions are not entirely reliable on politically sensitive matters either, as is clear from the many convenient delays in the commissions set up to probe big communal riots, the Babri Masjid demolition, etc. However, JPCs also fail to bring closure the Bofors JPC being a case in point. More importantly, they call upon MPs, with no investigative training or experience, to arrive at answers on complex contentions, to the detriment of their primary job making legislation, examining the government's financial proposals and overseeing the functioning of the executive. The fact that the 2G JPC has sputtered and stalled only reveals the limits of the idea.

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