Virtually rejecting its Chairman K V Thomas’ view, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on Friday decided that the Prime Minister will not be called before it after BJP members strongly objected to the Congress leader’s remarks that he may be asked to appear over the demonetisation issue.
The decision came after a storm was kicked up by the ruling party members on Thomas’ statement earlier this week that the PAC can call Prime Minister Narendra Modi to depose on the note ban issue.
Referring to the Speaker’s directions related to the rules overseeing financial committees and those concerning calling Prime Minister/Ministers, the committee said in a release, “Ministers shall not be called before the Committee either to give evidence or consultation in connection with the examination of estimates of accounts. However, Chairperson, when considered necessary but after its deliberations are concluded, may have an informal interaction with the Minister.”
BJP members including Nishikant Dubey, Bhupender Yadav, and Kirit Somaiya raised the issue of Thomas’ statement and said the committee does not have powers to summon the Prime Minister. Dubey had earlier written to the Lok Sabha Speaker saying that Thomas’ remarks about Modi being called to appear over the issue of demonetisation, is “wrong, unethical and against laid out Parliamentary procedures”.
In the meeting, Thomas is believed to have clarified that what he meant was that the Committee can summon the Prime Minister if it takes a unanimous decision and cautioned against “killing the institution”. The statement said officials may be called to give evidence in connection with the examination of estimates and accounts relating to particular ministries as per the existing rules but not Prime Minister or Ministers.
A PAC meeting on this issue has been called on January 20th, in which the RBI governor Urjit Patel, finance secretary Ashok Lavasa and economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das will be present. The PAC sent a detailed questionnaire to officials, including the RBI governor, on December 30.
“The committee has all right to call anybody involved in the matter. But that will depend on the outcome of the January 20th meeting. We can call PM on demonetisation issue if members unanimously decide,” Thomas had said.
While power minister Piyush Goyal told the Rajya Sabha a while back the idea was that of the RBI, a report has said that the central bank in a note said it was, in fact, the government’s idea.
According to the report, the RBI has said this in reply to the questions raised by the PAC. “Government, on 7th November 2016, advised the Reserve Bank that to mitigate the triple problems of counterfeiting, terrorist financing and black money, the Central Board of the Reserve Bank may consider withdrawal of the legal tender status of the notes in high denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000,” the report quoted from the RBI ‘s reply.
The decision to demonetise the high-value currency notes was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 8 November, a day after the advise given to the RBI. The central bank has also said the government presses had cleared the proposal to print Rs 2000 notes in May 2016 and started printing them from June 2016.
However, the board of the bank had not discussed the possibility of demonetisation in its meetings held in May, July or August. This information has been revealed in an RTI query.
Earlier, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, a member of the panel, had raised doubts as to whether the central bank was given enough time to think over the demonetisation proposal. He had also suggested that the panel should quiz the government officials before the RBI governor.