New Delhi: A sudden reference to the audit of PM CARES Fund by senior BJP MP Jagdambika Pal at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting held Friday left his party colleagues in the panel embarrassed, given that PAC chairman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury didn’t even mention it.
MPs in the know of the deliberations at the meeting told ThePrint that this happened when BJP parliamentarians were opposing Chowdhury’s proposal to discuss the Covid pandemic and its ramifications on the economy.
When discussions heated up with BJP members, led by Rajya Sabha MP Bhupender Yadav, citing rules as to why discussion on Covid couldn’t happen, Pal, a PAC member, intervened and said if the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is not audited by the CAG, then why should PM CARES Fund be audited.
A few other BJP MPs also joined him and said the PM CARES Fund should not be audited.
To this, PAC chairman and Congress MP Chowdhury replied that he has not mentioned a word about PM CARES.
“He said because of the situation that has arisen in the country due to the Covid outbreak, it is important that the committee discusses the various issues related to the pandemic,” said a parliamentarian in know about the discussions.
Speaking to ThePrint, Chowdhury said: “It seems there is a fear in the mind of the BJP leaders that any discussion on Covid outbreak means discussion about PM CARES also.”
PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund is a dedicated national fund to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like the Covid-19 outbreak.
Since it was set up on 28 March, the fund has invited criticism from the opposition, who have questioned its opacity and the need for setting it up when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund is already there.
Pal, who is famously remembered as the one-day UP chief minister, is also the chairman of the Lok Sabha standing committee on urban development. Besides, he is the member of the Parliament’s business advisory committee and general purpose committee, and the housing and urban affairs ministry’s consultative committee.
BJP opposed proposal to discuss Covid
At the PAC meeting, differences came up between Congress and BJP members, with the latter putting its foot down over Chowdhury’s suggestion to discuss issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it is not the mandate of the committee.
The PAC is a financial committee and can take up only subjects whose expenditure is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. The committee met for the first time Friday since the Covid outbreak to shortlist its agenda.
Citing rules, BJP MP Yadav said the PAC could only take up government expenditure that is audited by the CAG.
Most of the 20 members of the PAC, including 12 from the BJP, opposed Chowdhury’s suggestion to take up discussion on the Covid-19 situation.
Senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Bhartuhari Mahtab also supported the BJP.
Sources said it was Mahtab, who read out the rulebook to Chowdhury when the latter said a suo moto discussion on the matter could be taken up.
Members pushed for voting, chairman refused
Chowdhury cited precedents where the PAC had suo moto decided to discuss subjects, including the 2G spectrum sale.
“Mahtab told the PAC chairman that suo moto decisions can be taken up by the committee and that too unanimously. A committee chairman can’t take suo moto decisions,” the above-mentioned parliamentarian said, quoting Mahtab.
BJP MPs then asked Chowdhury to conduct voting to decide if PAC should take up discussion on Covid.
Chowdhury told ThePrint: “I refused to conduct voting. Committee matters should be decided through consensus.
“It is very unfortunate that senior members are not agreeing to take up such an urgent health emergency issue like the Covid outbreak for scrutiny. Shouldn’t the citizens of the country know what the government is doing to manage the outbreak?”
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