"According to past precedents and rules, members of a committee pass a unanimous resolution to call a minister. The request is then sent to the Speaker for a final ruling as rules do not permit calling a minister before a committee for either giving evidence or consultations.
But in this case, since there is no unanimity on calling the Finance Minister, I have decided to refer the matter to the Speaker which is allowed under rules...I will refer the matter of calling of a minister. There is no precedence to call the Prime Minister," Chacko said after today's meeting.
The decision was taken even as the six BJP members in the Joint Parliamentary Committee(JPC), who had been boycotting the meetings accusing Chacko of not taking a decision on their demand to call Singh and Chidambaram, today stayed away from the proceedings.
While BJP has been demanding calling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram before JPC, Left members in the panel - Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) and Sitaram Yechury (CPM) - today made a strong pitch to call the Finance Minister.
In a strongly worded letter to Chacko today on behalf of his party colleagues, Yashwant Sinha of BJP said, "...we have strongly demanded that in order to arrive at the right conclusions, the Committee must record the evidence of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. Their appearance before the Committee, in view of their role in the decision making process is absolutely necessary."
Responding to the letter, Chacko said except for BJP, no one else has demanded calling the prime minister as witness. "Even the CPI and CPM said they do not want to call the PM, but only the Finance Minister...BJP knows it is not in the rules to call PM...it is a political decision," he said.
Chacko also rejected the charge of Sinha that he was not taking a decision on finalising the list of witnesses to be called before JPC. "I am going to respond to the letter today itself. I will recall in the letter that two meetings of the committee were devoted for the purpose," he said.
Before today's meeting began, Dasgupta handed over a letter to Chacko demanding that Chidambaram be called as a witness.
Dasgupta said the Finance Minister will be able to explain his Ministry's "inability to prevent DoT from unilaterally going ahead with the allocation of 2G licences in spite of opposition from various quarters."
He also said as Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh had deposed before the JPC on securities scam in the 1990s.
"This may effectively nail down suspicion and can bring out that there is no impartiality on part of the JPC to conduct a neutral inquiry," Dasgupta wrote in the letter.
His letter comes after a similar demand made by CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury in the September 18 meeting of the JPC. In today's meeting too, Yechury insisted on calling the Finance Minister.
SP's Shailendra Kumar is learnt to have asked Chacko to take an early decision on the issue so that JPC can proceed further. "The Chairman should inform the Speaker about various opinions members have on the issue," he is learnt to have said.
On the issue of precedents in calling a minister, Chacko said JPC on securities scam headed by Ram Nivas Mirdha had written to the then Speaker Shivraj Patil. Patil had agreed to call then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh but mentioned in the ruling that it should not be used as a precedent.
He said if the present Finance Minister has to be called, then all Finance Ministers - including Sinha and Jaswant Singh - both JPC members - since 1998 have to called in chronological order.
"If they appear as witnesses, then they can't sit on judgement," he said adding that Singh and Sinha were ready to appear as witnesses.
During the meeting, Manish Tewari (Congress) demanded that the controversial Niira Radia tapes be made available to JPC and corporates be summoned as witnesses.
"I heard him mention about the transcript of some tapes. Whatever it is - I could not grasp the word Radia - should be made available to the Committee...we can't have those who made profit sermonise the committee on the 2G issue," Chacko said virtually ruling out calling corporate honchos.