The facts are still up in the air regarding both the phone-tapping case and the Indian Premier League imbroglio. But the Opposition has been more than vocal in demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe both issues. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has a point when he says that a JPC is ‘serious business’ and that it doesn’t seem to be warranted in the present situation. There are no fixed criteria for constituting a JPC but, by and large, it has always been set up when public interest is affected or public functionaries are involved. The three significant JPCs that come to mind are those on Bofors, the 1992 stock market scam involving Harshad Mehta and the 2001 stock market scam involving Ketan Parekh. In the latter two instances, small and medium investors were badly hit, in the first taxpayers’ money had to be accounted for. In all cases, including the JPC on contaminated groundwater usage by cola companies, the underlying issue was that of errors of governance.
The Opposition, in its haste to secure quick action — and get brownie points — is going about things all the wrong way. First, it is incumbent upon the Opposition to make out a convincing case for constituting a JPC. All we see is a total disruption of parliamentary proceedings. Second, the JPC involves an elaborate process both in setting it up and in going about its task. The results could take a few years by which time all these issues will be history and no one will really care about the outcome. The track record of previous JPCs has not been encouraging. In the Bofors case, nothing came of it. In both the stock scams, the governments of the day didn’t seem interested in taking forward the findings or bringing the guilty to book. In many ways, the JPC is a brahmastra, to be unleashed when all other avenues of investigation fail. The manner in which it’s being bandied about suggests that no sooner is it set up, we will have all the answers we’re looking for.
To say that the IPL affects public interest is stretching things. People’s love for the game and its undermining does not necessarily amount to shortchanging the public in any substantial or justiciable manner. The fact that ministers are under the scanner also raises the question of the impartiality of a JPC comprising elected representatives and ministers. The best way for the Opposition to go about building a case for a JPC would be for it to engage in debate in Parliament — instead of stalling proceedings — and painstakingly present the facts that will make it difficult for the government to prevaricate on the issue.