Referring to parliamentary guidelines, Tharoor alleged that he did not excuse officials from attending the committee meeting that followed the Pegasus revelations.
Days after MeitY, MHA and DoT officials failed to attend the Parliamentary Information Technology Standing Committee meeting on “Citizens’ Privacy and Security,” the committee chairman Shashi Tharoor wrote to the Lok Sabha spokesman that the act ” in clear terms “be contempt for the house.”
The letter sent yesterday also describes it as a violation of parliamentary privilege and calls on spokesman Om Birla to take note of the matter and take appropriate action. MediaNama has reviewed a copy of the letter.
Why is it important? Wednesday’s meeting was the IT committee’s first discussion as part of the area the privacy and security of citizens, the Pegasus spyware controversy which disrupted several proceedings in Parliament during the monsoon session and led to widespread protests from opposition members. The Pegasus controversy goes back to reports by an international consortium of 17 news organizations that the (potential) use of Pegasus spyware by the Israeli company NSO Group on opposition leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, politicians and key helpers from Karnataka, activists, journalists, bureaucrats and ministers and soon. So far, the government has not categorically refused to buy or use the software.
A timeline of what happened – according to Tharoor
MHA Interior Minister Ajay Kumar Bhalla, MeitY Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney and DoT Chairman and Secretary Anshu Prakash were reported to appear before the committee on July 28th. According to Tharoor, the ministries had previously confirmed their participation at the meeting first announced on July 20.
2:33 p.m. – Ministry of the Interior
The MHA allegedly forwarded its mail at 2:33 pm and requested to be exempted from attending the session “due to urgent and urgent obligations in connection with the subsequent parliamentary session”.
2:44 p.m. – Department of Electronics and Information Technology
Tharoor says MeitY “forwarded” an email that day at 2:44 pm asking for an exemption from attendance because the chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Act had an urgent meeting with the secretary and high-ranking MeitY officials requested “clarification” on the PDP Bill ‘at 3:45 pm.
2:52 p.m. – Telecommunications Department
The letter said the DoT received a “similar notice” at around 2:52 pm saying that its secretary was listed on urgent matters related to parliamentary questions scheduled for the next day (July 29th) cannot appear before the committee.
4:00 p.m. – meeting planned
In his letter, Tharoor says that shortly before the meeting he was informed by the committee department of the Lok Sabha Secretariat that the ministries had sent out emails around 3 p.m. saying that their respective officials were not in front of the committee can appear.
Violation of ‘Spokesman’s Instructions’
According to § 59 para. 1 of Directions of the speaker–
“If a ministry or department or company is required to testify on a matter before a committee, the ministry or department or company is represented by the secretary or the head of the department or company, as the case may be:
Provided that the chairman of the committee may, upon request on that behalf, authorize any other senior official to represent the ministry or department or company before the committee. “
In his letter, Tharoor refers to the above and further states that he did not excuse the three officers from participating.
Then he quotes from the “Procedure for Ensuring the Presence of Witnesses” as it is written in MN Kaul and SL Shakdher Book “Parliament’s Practice and Procedure” say that the three officials despised the house and “undermined the authority of a parliamentary committee”.
“If a witness does not appear before a committee, when summoned or summoned by letter, or if a person refuses to produce a document when requested by a committee, his conduct is in disregard of the chamber and can be dated to the chamber Committee. ”- Parliament’s Practice and Procedure
Other disruptions to the committee procedure
- On Wednesday, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey told MediaNama that he, along with 17 other BJP committee members, had tabled a motion of no confidence to remove Shashi Tharoor from chairing the parliamentary standing committee on information technology.
- Earlier on Wednesday, sources confirmed to MediaNama that, while BJP members of the committee participated in the proceedings, they refused to register their presence on the committee’s attendance register. This resulted in a lack of quorum for the continuation of the meeting.
- On Tuesday, five BJP MPs walked out of the IT committee meeting held to hear stakeholders’ views on how the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) works in the context of the 2021 draft Cinematographers Bill.
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