As we stood at attention to the national song signalling the sine die closure of this winter session of Parliament, the enormity of damage that a completely wasted session has caused our democracy hung like a dark cloud. The Prime Minister, on a (by now common place) foreign visit during the Parliament session, echoed such concern by saying in Germany: “I am worried about the future of the parliamentary system (in our country)”. Such concern, however, completely contradicts the obduracy of the government in refusing to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to go into the 2G spectrum scam, which by all counts, is the biggest corruption scandal in independent India.
The French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu had laid down the necessity of a concept of checks and balances in constitutional governance by drawing attention to the dangers inherent in the concentration of legislative, executive and judicial powers in one authority. All modern democracies drew on this to define and demarcate these three wings and establish norms for their inter-relationships to play a joint and participatory role. While doing so, our Constitution defines the centrality of the will of the people. The preamble defines this eloquently: “We, the people of India… do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.”
The executive (government) and the legislature (Parliament) are vested with the responsibility under the Constitution to manage public affairs while being accountable to the people. Accountability, in fact, differentiates democracy from other systems of governance. The legislature, apart from exercising its authority to make laws and draw the attention of the government on matters of public importance, is vested with the responsibility of ensuring executive accountability through effective legislative scrutiny. The centrality of the sovereignty of the people in our Constitution is, thus, established by the executive being accountable to the legislature which, in turn, is accountable to the people.
When Parliament ceases to function due to disruptions, the government of the day escapes from being accountable. While this may be convenient and comfortable for the government, this grievously undermines the foundations of our constitutional scheme of things. This is precisely what is happening with the government's obstinate refusal to constitute a JPC to investigate this 'mother of all scams'.
It is being argued that the 2G spectrum scam is being investigated by various other agencies, including Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Now, the PAC, by definition, is an accounts committee and will, surely, examine the report of the comptroller and auditor general (CAG). The other investigative agencies will, surely, pursue the case to identify those guilty of corruption.
This 2G scam, however, goes much beyond the issue of mere graft. This scam involves a massive manipulation of our system that permits such a colossal loot to take place. Further, this scam has also exposed a very deep unholy nexus between unscrupulous sections of politics, business, bureaucracy and the media.
These avenues for the manipulation of our system need to be plugged to ensure such scams don't recur. This can be done only on the basis of a thorough holistic investigation that can result in the recommendation of new regulations or new laws, if necessary. In our constitutional scheme of things, it is Parliament alone that can enact laws. Hence, it is only a JPC that will have this authority. Given this, the government's obduracy on this score is utterly incomprehensible. In the past, JPCs have been constituted to investigate scams of much smaller dimensions.
It is further argued that since the Supreme Court is seized of the matter, there is no need for a JPC. Quite the contrary. The apex court last week observed that “the issue raised in the case (2G spectrum scam) is not only limited to the R1.76 lakh crore but has a much wider compass. We would not like to prejudice the probe. But what happened in 2001 needs to be looked into.” In 2001, the Vajpayee government adopted the 'first come, first served' policy. Regarding the policy of transfer of dual technology — CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) — the apex court observed that the CAG had not gone into this matter. In fact, the apex court went to the extent of suggesting the need for a special court in view of the magnitude of the offence as otherwise the objective of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Foreign Exchange Management Act cannot be achieved.
It is precisely in view of the magnitude of the offence and the multi-dimensional aspects of the scam that the constitution of a JPC becomes imperative. Some ask: Do you not have any faith in the judiciary? Of course, we do. We are proud of the independent and impartial judiciary created by our Constitution as an interpreter of law and custodian of the rights of the citizens through the process of judicial review. However, we must recollect what Jawaharlal Nehru said in the constituent assembly: “No Supreme Court and no judiciary can stand in judgement over the sovereign will of Parliament representing the will of the entire community. If we go wrong here and there, it can point it out, but in the ultimate analysis, where the future of the community is concerned, no judiciary can come in the way… ultimately the fact remains that the legislature must be supreme and must not be interfered with by the court of law in measures of social reform.”
In the interest of our democracy, the legislature must be allowed to discharge its constitutional role. During the two months before the Budget session, the government must take the initiative in breaking this logjam.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.