Oppn demands Mahua be allowed to speak in LS; BJP says got time

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha witnessed a heated debate Friday on an Ethics Committee report recommending TMC MP Mahua Moitra’s expulsion in the cash-for-query issue, with the Opposition demanding she be allowed to speak in the House, and the government contending her views were heard by the panel.

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Initiating the debate, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury sought more time to analyse the report, a suggestion that was turned down citing past precedence when the Lok Sabha, in 2005, had expelled 10 members in the cash-for-query scam, on the day the Committee report was presented.

As Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved the motion to adopt the report of the Ethics Committee recommending Moitra’s expulsion from Lok Sabha, Speaker Om Birla said it was a very painful day for the House as well as him as its presiding officer.

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“But at times we do face such difficult moments when this House has to take tough decisions to fulfil its duties to the House itself and to the nation,” he said.

Participating in the debate, Congress member Manish Tewari contended the report of the Ethics Committee was “fundamentally flawed” as it did not have the powers to recommend expulsion of a member.

The Congress member said the Ethics Committee at best can make recommendations and not decide on whether a person was guilty or innocent. “It is this House sitting as a jury which has the power to decide the quantum of punishment.”

He said it was for the first time in his 31 years as a practicing lawyer that he was arguing in a haste without reading the documents completely.

“Heavens would not have fallen if we were given 3-4 days to read the report and then discuss as the matter is sensitive,” Tewari said, and also insisted that Moitra be given an opportunity to present her side.

Joshi countered the opposition request, saying that the precedent in the matter as set by former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee dictated that members who have been given time to present their arguments to the Ethics Committee are not allowed to speak during the same discussion in the House.

Countering the opposition claims of inadequate time for studying the report, BJP member Heena Gavit claimed that she had managed to read the 495-page document and frame her arguments in two hours.

The Ethics Committee report was presented in the Lok Sabha on Friday noon and the discussion on the same was taken up at 2:00 p.m.

Moitra was expelled as the House adopted the report that held her guilty of accepting gifts and illegal gratification from a businessman to further his interest.

Gavit said that according to the report businessman Darshan Hiranandani has interests in five sectors — telecom, shipping, real estate, petroleum and pipeline.

“The member has asked 61 questions of which 50 pertain to these five sectors related to Mr Hiranandani. The report also states that her account was accessed from Dubai 47 times , six times UK, US, Nepal to upload the questions. The member had admitted before the Ethics Committee that she had shared the login id and password with Mr Hiranandani,” Gavit said.

“Such conduct sends a message that parliamentarians do not ask their questions, but do so at someone’s behest . If someone gives them money then they can raise questions in the House in a high-pitched voice,” the BJP member said.

Gavit was also dismissive of Moitra’s claims that the Ethics Committee proceedings were akin to Draupadi’s cheerharan’ (outraging modesty).

“The Ethics Committee has heard everyone. The member was asked questions based on the affidavit and there was no question of any cheerharan,” she said.

Trinamool leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay made a strong pitch for Moitra being made the speaker on behalf of the party, a demand that was turned down by the Speaker.

Participating in the debate, Trinamool Congress member Kalyan Banerjee also urged the Speaker that Moitra be given a chance to speak.

“We are all acting as quasi-judicial bodies here and I urge the house with folded hands that Mahua Moitra be given a chance to speak as an effective person needs to be heard. This is constitutional violation of her rights,” he said.

Banerjee said businessman Darshan Hiranandani too had not been examined by the committee.

“It is an eyewash. The House doesn’t have power to remove a member, the constitution doesn’t permit,” Banerjee said.

At this point, Speaker Birla made it clear that the House was discussing the recommendation of the Ethics Committee and was not working as a court.

“House does not work as a court, we are only discussing recommendations of the committee,” Birla said.

JD(U) member Giridhari Yadav said he never wrote his Parliament questions as he does not even know how to operate a computer.

Yadav said his Parliament login id was with his personal assistant who prepared questions on his behalf.

Yadav’s candid admission in the Lok Sabha drew a reprimand from the Speaker.

“A member can submit written questions to Parliament but can’t get questions drafted by someone else,” Birla said.

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