A meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) held on Friday saw a heated exchange between the chairman and Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and BJP members after his insistence that the committee should discuss “COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications”.

Mr Chowdhury’s suggestion was vetoed during the meeting which saw an overwhelming presence of BJP members. Biju Janata Dal’s B Mahtab, Shiv Sena’s Rahul Shewale, JD (U)’s Rajiv Ranjan Singh and DMK’s T.R. Baalu were the only non-BJP members present at the meeting.

According to sources, right at the outset of the meeting, Mr Chowdhury read out a suo motu statement, saying that the world is seeing unprecedented calamity. He suggested that the committee deliberate upon COVID-19 and its ramifications especially on the MSME and agriculture sector.

At this, sources said BJD MP, Mr Mahtab pointed out that the laid down rules of procedure do not allow any new subject to be taken up till there is unanimity among members. BJP MP Bhupender Yadav too added that the PAC was constituted to deliberate and examine the reports filed by Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG). There have been precedents that on direction of Lok Sabha Speaker the PAC has discussed issues, but the Chairman cannot unilaterally decide the subject of deliberation.

To this Mr. Chowdhury replied that in the unprecedented global situations the rules alone should not matter. The committee, he said should work by consensus driven by conscience.

This led to a heated exchange of words between him and the BJP members. Sources said the BJP MPs feared that the subject proposed by Mr Chowdhury could also bring PM CARES under its ambit. This view was articulated by BJP MP Jagamdbika Pal, who said the committee has not ever debated upon National PM Relief Fund till date so why should it debate PM CARES.

Mr Mahtab, sources said, also pointed out that the PAC is already overburdened. There are a total of 125 reports that are pending with the PAC including many of them critical ones on “Indo-China Border Roads” constructed by the Border Roads Organisation.

As tempers rose, BJP MP Bhupender Yadav, suggested that a vote should be called on the issue to break the impasse. Clearly, outnumbered, Mr Chowdhury conceded.

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