New Delhi - On a day BJP boycotted the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the 2G spectrum allocation over its demand for calling the prime minister as a witness, the panel chief and Congress MP P.C. Chacko Thursday rejected the plea, saying he has no intention of setting a precedent in this regard.
However, he has agreed to refer another request for summoning the finance minister to depose before the JPC to Speaker Meira Kumar, who is the only person authorised to take a call on calling ministers as witnesses.
Chacko's ruling came after discussions with other members of the 30-member committee. On Wednesday, the panel recorded the oral evidence of Planning Commission Secretary Sindhushree Khullar, who was a former additional secretary in the department of economic affairs of the finance ministry.
The Left members of the panel - the CPM's Sitaram Yechury and CPI's Gurudas Dasgupta - also want the finance minister to be called as a witness, though they are not in favour of the prime minister deposing.
"There is no precedent to call the prime minister as a witness to any parliamentary committee. The rules and directions for the JPC also do not permit summoning the prime minister or even other ministers. I have no intention of setting any precedent," Chacko told reporters here.
"However, after discussing with the members, I have decided to refer the demand for calling the finance minister as a witness to the speaker for a decision. Whatever decision she takes will be acceptable to me as chairman of the JPC," he said.
Earlier in the day, the six Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members kept away from the JPC meeting, angered by what they called the Chacko's "indecision" on calling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and former communications ministers Dayanidhi Maran and A. Raja to appear before the panel.
BJP sources told IANS that the six party members boycotted the meeting after writing a letter to Chacko on the issue and asking him to take a decision on their demand at the earliest.
One of the BJP members in the JPC - former finance minister Yashwant Sinha - told reporters here that even after 22 days of the BJP's request for calling the four witnesses, Chacko has not responded with a decision.
"There is no reason to attend the JPC meeting till the time the chairman informs us on the final list of witnesses. Even after 22 days of our request, the chairman has been not responded with a decision. He has been dismissing our suggestions," Sinha said.
He also noted that the BJP "wanted the truth to be brought out" and that was the purpose of making the demand.
"But the Congress wants to cover up the truth and is trying to waste time," Sinha said, claiming the ruling party wanted to finalise the JPC report without the vital witnesses being questioned.
Another BJP member, Dharmendra Pradhan, echoed Sinha's views. "The Congress does not want the truth to come out or to fight corruption," he added.
Chacko said no parliamentary panel has ever summoned a prime minister to depose before it and that he could not allow such a demand.
On other ministers being called before the JPC, the Congress MP said the rules did not permit this too, though he has now referred the demand to the speaker for a decision.
Chacko also noted that the JPC was looking at spectrum policies from 1998 to 2009, and that if the yardstick the BJP wants applied in the case of Chidambaram was applied to the NDA rule period between 1998 and 2004, then two members of the JPC from the BJP - Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh - too may have to be called to depose.
"This will pose difficulties for me as the chairperson. I cannot allow such a situation," he said.
On the BJP calling him "dictatorial", Chacko said: "I am not unhappy over this. This is a political stand of the BJP members. However, in person, they have a lot of love and affection for me. Personally, they are very close to me."
Meanwhile, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta walked out of the meeting after a war of words with Congress member Shashi Tharoor over what the former called "defending" a witness who is deposing being against the procedures of the panel.
"I walked out as defending a witness when the witness is deposing before a committee is against the procedures. Tharoor has created a bad precedence," Dasgupta told reporters here.