The Public Accounts Committee or PAC, one of the most important parliamentary panels which scrutinise key reports by the auditor general and has taken up issues like the 2G spectrum scandal in the past, failed to arrive at a consensus on Friday on examining the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic or the new PM CARES fund set up to tackle the crisis.
The chairman of the committee, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is also the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, appealed to members to think of the nation and act with their conscience and find a consensus on the important subject.
Members of the ruling BJP, however, came in full strength with a clear directive to the meeting of the panel to stall Mr Chowdhury’s proposal of examining the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, sources said.
The biggest support for the BJP came from Biju Janata Dal leader Bhartuhari Mahtani. The opposition was outnumbered with DMK leader TR Balu being one of the few to support the proposal, those present in the meeting told NDTV.
Some opposition leaders claimed that the reason for denying the scrutiny of the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response is because the BJP is afraid of a closer look into the PM CARES fund which is not under the audit of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India or CAG.
The ruling party, which enjoys a majority in the panel and is led by senior leader Bhupender Yadav, blocked Mr Chowdhury’s attempt to select the PM CARES Fund for examination saying its funding was not sanctioned by parliament and therefore it cannot be taken up by the committee.
The government has said the PM CARES Fund, set up as a war chest for national emergencies to draw individual and private sector donations, will not be looked into by the government’s auditor but by “independent” auditors.
This was the first time that the PAC met after the nationwide lockdown was lifted and unlike other committees where the presence of members was minimal, the BJP ensured there was a nearly full attendance.
With this decision, the key parliamentary committee will be unable to scrutinise and analyse one of the world’s biggest lockdowns, the government’s response and how it is handling the crisis for now.
The PAC, however, agreed to review the construction of border roads at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and procurement of high-altitude clothing for the armed forces in the wake of the recent clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in eastern Ladakh that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.