Bharatiya Janata Party members today ended their nearly three-month boycott of the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) set up to look into the 2G spectrum scandal but stuck to the demand to summon prime minister Manmohan Singh as a witness in the matter, a demand rejected by panel chief PC Chacko.
Their demand to summon finance minister P Chidambaram as a witness will be decided upon at a later stage. The demand has been supported by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has said it is not too keen to call the prime minister.
A "special meeting" will also decide on calling former finance ministers Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh as witnesses, both members of the JPC, a source said.
The meeting is likely to held in December after the committee finishes questioning the present batch of witnesses, which include attorney general GE Vahanvati and some telecom operators.
Citing lack of precedent, Chacko "completely ruled out" calling the prime minister as a witness. "It is out of question to call the prime minister before the JPC as witness as there is no precedent of calling PMs before JPCs," he said yesterday.
The CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury has demanded that the finance minister be called to explain why the department, which had all along insisted on selling 2G spectrum at market rates, decided to support the department of telecommunication's move to allocate radiowaves on a first-come-first-served basis.
As soon as the day's proceedings began, BJP members led by Sinha and Ravi Shankar Prasad repeated their demand to call the prime minister and the finance minister against the backdrop of the deposition by former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar, a source privy to the deliberations said.
Chandrasekhar had told the JPC that he had written to the prime minister suggesting an increase in the licence fee for 2G spectrum so that the government could earn an additional Rs35,000 crore.
A Congress member said Sinha and Prasad told Chacko they would like put some questions to the prime minister. This was seen as an indication that they would like to send a questionnaire to the prime minister instead of insisting on calling him before the panel.
A Leftist politician also said the decision of the BJP to end the boycott could mean that they had decided to climb down on their demand to call the PM.
Chacko has all along maintained that the committee has sufficient documents to ascertain the views of the prime minister and there was no need to call him or even send a questionnaire.
It is learnt that some members like the DMK's T Siva also demanded that former telecom minister A Raja be called as a witness.
There were some heated exchanges when a Congress member demanded that ailing former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee be summoned as a witness. Prasad said the BJP was open to the idea provided Manmohan Singh was also summoned before the JPC.
BJP members had boycotted the JPC proceedings for nearly three months. Even before the boycott, they had stormed out of two JPC sessions accusing the chairman of behaving in an autocratic manner and charging Congress members with using foul language. They had stayed away from two subsequent sessions.
Some JPC members questioned Chacko's decision to issue a denial to a newspaper report about Chandrasekhar's appearance before the committee. Chacko is believed to termed it a case of "misreporting" and said the issue would not be pursued further.
In today's meeting, representatives of a GSM operators' body were questioned on the impact of the migration package on revenue and teledensity. A member claimed that their replies were "inconsistent" and they would be called again at the next meeting to be held later this month during the winter session of Parliament.
The BJP has six members on the JPC — Sinha, Singh, Prasad, Dharmendra Pradhan, Gopinath Munde, and Haren Pathak.