Amid ongoing bilateral tensions tensions in the wake of the recent unprecedented clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on Friday decided to review the construction of border roads at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and procurement of high-altitude clothing for the armed forces.
The panel may call the Defence Secretary and other top officials to be briefed on the same.
Friday’s meeting of the 22-member PAC chaired by leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was attended by 17 out of the total 20 members. Its two seats are vacant.
Meanwhile, members of the PAC, in which BJP enjoys majority and is led by senior party leader Bhupender Yadav, thwarted Chowdhury’s attempt to select the PM CARES Fund for examination saying its amount was not sanctioned by the parliament and therefore it cannot be taken up by the committee.
Also, the parliament panel failed to arrive at a consensus on examining the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
MPs from Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and JD(U) also supported the BJP on the issues.
The PAC is responsible for examining how the Government spends its money.
The PM CARES Fund set up to fight COVID-19 has been a bone of contention between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
The Congress has repeatedly questioned the Government’s intention behind setting up PM-CARES as it not audited by CAG, not is subject to RTI.
The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund is not a public authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), the PMO has maintained while refusing to divulge information on the same.
Meanwhile, the Centre had on Thursday justified the creation of PM CARES Fund before the Supreme Court saying that mere existence of a statutory fund under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) would not prohibit the setting up of a different one which provides for voluntary donations. It also opposed the suggestion that the contributions be transferred to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).
On March 28, the Centre set up the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund to deal with emergency situations like the one posed by the COVID-19 outbreak and provide relief to those affected.
The Prime Minister is the ex-officio chairman of the fund and the defence, home and finance ministers are its ex-officio trustees.
The opposition had earlier questioned the need for a creation of the Fund as the PM’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) already exists to receive donations for such emergencies.
The PM-CARES Fund has reportedly received Rs 6,500 crore in the first week of its launch. It has crossed a whopping Rs 10,000 crore as of now.
Meanwhile, the PAC has decided to examine various subjects with special focus being given to the CAG report number 5 of 2017, a performance audit of the Sino-India Border Roads, and CAG report number 13 of 2019 which is on the provisioning and procurement of high altitude-clothing, equipment, ration and housing for soldiers.
As per the papers circulated among the members of the committee on Friday, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on border roads is the top most subject for examination by the committee during the year.
Similarly, troops in high-altitude areas such as Siachen, Ladakh, etc need to be provided high-altitude clothing, equipment, special ration and housing facilities and the CAG report number 13 of 2019 points out at delays in procurement of clothing and equipment for troops in these regions, as per PAC’s agenda papers.
The PAC meeting on Friday was the first meeting of the panel in the current calendar year. It assumes significance as it was the second meeting of the Lok Sabha’s standing committee after parliament was adjourned prematurely on March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(With PTI inputs)