House panels meet, Adhir, BJP clash over raising vaccine issue

Chowdhury reportedly wanted the panel to discuss suo motu the vaccination programme and call representatives of the Union Ministry of Health, ICMR and other related officials for deposition, which was objected to by the NDA members.

The meetings of the Standing Committees of Parliament kicked off Wednesday, after a two-month gap, to heated exchanges at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) between Chairman and Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and NDA members over his proposal that the panel take up for discussion the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Chowdhury reportedly wanted the panel to discuss suo motu the vaccination programme and call representatives of the Union Ministry of Health, ICMR and other related officials for deposition, which was objected to by the NDA members. Sources said 14 members attended the meeting of the PAC, which was the first of the Standing Committees to convene on Wednesday.

As Chowdhury began reading out a statement proposing a discussion on Covid vaccination, JD(U) member Rajiv Ranjan Singh (Lalan) was reportedly the first to object. BJP member Jagdambika Pal joined him. The two are said to have accused Chowdhury of politicising the panel’s functioning and told him to instead read the statement to the media outside. Chowdhury repeatedly asked them to let him finish reading the statement.

The agenda of the first meeting of the PAC in this financial year was to select subjects for examination during the year 2021-22, and Comptroller and Auditor General G C Murmu was accordingly present, as is customary. The meeting progressed peacefully till Chowdhury, while concluding it, read out his statement.

The NDA members objected, arguing that the PAC can take up only government expenditure audited by CAG.

Singh and Pal, backed by BJP members Ram Kripal Yadav and Ajay Misra, reportedly asked Chowdhury to seek a vote. Chowdhury replied that he had not proposed anything nor was he trying to pass a report on which a vote could be held.

Chowdhury, it is learnt, then went on to list the numerous times the PAC had taken up subjects for examination suo motu — right from construction of the Hirakud Dam project in the first Lok Sabha to the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana in the 16th Lok Sabha.

He said he was ready to tender his resignation if there was anything wrong in his statement, and continued reading it amidst protests.

The DMK’s T R Baalu and M Thambidurai, and the Congress’s Shaktisinh Gohil, reportedly urged the NDA members to let Chowdhury finish his statement. But the NDA members did not relent, forcing Chowdhury to conclude the meeting.

Chowdhury, it is learnt, wanted the PAC to discuss the capacity, production, dispatch, supply and customers’ lists of the two domestic vaccine manufacturers. He also wanted the panel to ask private hospitals about their source of supply since several states had complained of vaccine shortage, and to question the government on the steps being taken to monitor vaccine manufacturers, the rationale behind the differential prices announced by them, and the details of grants provided by the Centre for research, development and manufacture of the vaccines and the cost of their production.

The scenes on Wednesday were virtually a repeat of a PAC meeting held in July last year. Chowdhury had then proposed that the committee take up for discussion the pandemic and its impact on various sectors, but the BJP members had strongly protested on the same grounds as Wednesday.

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