Sucheta Dalal :JPC on 2G: Public hearings needed
Sucheta Dalal

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JPC on 2G: Public hearings needed  

March 23, 2011

Four earlier joint parliamentary committees have served no purpose 

Sucheta Dalal

Most people forget that we have had four joint parliamentary committees (JPCs) in the past 30 years and each of them has been virtually useless. The first was in 1987 to investigate the Bofors gun scandal; the second and third were in 1992 and 2000 after the Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh scams, respectively, and there was another quickly forgotten one in 2003 on the issue of pesticides in colas. Apart from hogging the headlines, none of them served any purpose. This is primarily because no JPC member keeps tabs on how its recommendations are diluted or buried over time; the ATRs (Action Taken Reports) tabled in Parliament are an eyewash.

The 1992 JPC relegated most specific allegations to ‘notes’ attached to the report, which were promptly ignored. Also, if the 1992 JPC had led to systemic changes, then how did Ketan Parekh manipulate stocks in exactly the same manner as Harshad Mehta had done nearly a decade earlier? He also dipped into two banks—Global Trust Bank and Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank—and caused their collapse.

The only difference, if any, was that he flaunted his connection with Members of Parliament (MPs) who were then inducted into the JPC. Politicians and corporate houses, which are part of every scamster’s support group, are never indicted. Will the JPC on 2G make a difference? Not unless we have transparent public hearings, which make horse-trading and behind-the-scene compromises difficult. Proof of this is the manner in which the legendary Justice MC Chagla—a man of unimpeachable ability and integrity—conducted public hearings into the Haridas Mundhra scandal involving the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). It was a swift and transparent 24-day public inquiry, which led to the resignation of the then finance minister TT Krishnamachari and punishment of the guilty in less than two years.

Unlike the JPC hearings, which are confidential (except for a press briefing by the chairman every evening), Justice Chagla decided that “a public inquiry is a very important safeguard for ensuring that the decision will be fair and impartial. The public is entitled to know on what evidence the decision is based.” Large crowds thronged the public hearings including business legends such as JRD Tata. The fearless testimony of those who deposed before the Commission was remembered for decades. Justice Chagla had said, “The inquiry has been an education for the public. It should also act as a corrective to administrators all over the country, because in future they will act with the consciousness that their actions may be subjected to public scrutiny.” Our MPs took note of the last bit and ensured that no inquiry into a public scandal was ever open to public scrutiny again, by holding in-camera hearings.


-- Sucheta Dalal