ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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PAC and Parliament

NOW that the Lok Sabha has had the pleasure of debating the Fiftieth Report of the Public Accounts Committee, it is necessary to assess the wider issues arising out of the Aminchand Pyarelal affair, merits apart. 

NOW that the Lok Sabha has had the pleasure of debating the Fiftieth Report of the Public Accounts Committee, it is necessary to assess the wider issues arising out of the Aminchand Pyarelal affair, merits apart. Firstly, if the Government is to exercise powers of industrial regulation and ownership on the scale on which it embarked upon after 1951, it is likely to involve the use of discretion which, by hindsight,might sometimes appear wrong or might not find approval later. In the particular case of Aminchand Pyarelal, PAC considers the decision of the Iron and Steel Controller in giving an import licence to the firm without a specific export contract improper, while it considers the advice of the Chairman of the Government owned Hindustan Steel Ltd against the issue of the licence eminently reasonable. By hindsight, with Aminchand Pyarelal not fulfilling their export obligation, it is easy to adduce the reasonableness of the Hindustan Steel Chairman's advice. Secondly, Subramanian, the then Minister of Steel, had the courage (so it must be deemed — after the PAC Chairman's disclosure in Parliament regarding the power wielded by the Aminchand Pyarelal group) to blacklist the firm. The complaint is about the withdrawal of the blacklisting order after a meeting between the Minister and a representative of the firm — the PAC darkly hints about its ignorance as to what transpired at the meeting. One wonders what would have happened had the Minister not taken the initial decision about blacklisting at all. And must every unrecorded conversation of a Minister with businessmen lead to innuendoes and suspicion? Thirdly, this episode must throw a cloud on the relations between a Minister and his Secretary. It must inhibit the use of discretion and giving of honest advice by officials. And must Secretaries insist on written orders for all decisions taken by Ministers?
 The ramifications of the Aminchand Pyarelal group and the working of the Iron and Steel Controller's office should make interesting reading. But in the course of the Lok Sabha debate, many other issues have been raised — including those relating to violation of customs rules, misuse of import licences, infringement of foreign exchange regulations, and, inevitably, contributions to election campaign funds. The terms of reference of the proposed committee could involve, besides the Iron and Steel Controller's Office, also the Commerce Ministry, the Industry Ministry and Finance Ministry. Moreover, given the general atmosphere of suspicion and corruption, would restricted terms of reference do justice to the issues involved or satisfy the public? Finally, with the vast state patronage built up under planning, what would be the implications for the socialist experiment of an adverse report from the Enquiry Committee? Must we then throw away the baby with the bathwater? Is it not desirable for the Government to restrict bureaucratic/ministerial discretion by rules clearly laid down rather than undermine or give up its stake in industry?

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