Shashi Tharoor asks Om Birla to take action over officials ‘skipping’ IT panel meet on Pegasus

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Congress MP Shashi Tharoor | File photo | ANI
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor | File photo | ANI


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New Delhi: Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, has urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to take action over ministry officials’ “last-minute refusal” to attend a panel meet, which he said constituted “contempt of the House”.

The panel was to hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss several issues including the Pegasus snooping allegations.

It had summoned officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Communications (Department of Telecommunications) on the subject ‘Citizens data security and privacy’.

However, the meeting could not take place as the BJP members of the panel did not sign the attendance register, even though they were present in the meeting room, leading to a lack of quorum.

In his letter to Birla, Congress MP Tharoor said just before the sitting, he was informed by the committee branch of the secretariat that e-mail communications have been received on July 28 afternoon from the three ministries/department that their representatives would not be able to appear before the committee.

Tharoor said the Ministry of Home Affairs forwarded their mail at 2:33 pm, MeitY at 2:44 pm and the Department of Telecommunications at 2:52 pm.

Detailing the sequence of events, the parliamentary panel chief said in his letter that MeitY had sought exemption from appearance stating the chairperson of the joint committee on Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, has desired to have an urgent meeting with the secretary and other senior officers of MeitY for discussion/clarification on Bill at 3:45 pm in the chairman’s chamber.

The Ministry of Home Affairs sought exemption on account of urgent and pressing commitments related to the ensuing Parliament Session, Tharoor’s letter read.

Similar communication was received from the Department of Telecommunications that it will not be possible for the secretary to appear before the committee due to an urgent Parliament-related matter.

Tharoor said that as chairperson of the panel he did not excuse these witnesses from attendance.

The notice informing the members of the committee for the sitting was issued on July 20 and the ministries/department concerned were also informed on that day, he said, adding all the three ministries/department had confirmed their participation.

“The last-minute refusal of the ministries/department to appear before the committee has been unprecedented and clearly constitutes breach of parliamentary privilege and contempt of the House. Besides, this has undermined the authority of a parliamentary committee,” Tharoor said.

He urged the Lok Sabha Speaker to take serious cognizance of this matter and undertake action as deemed appropriate under the rules.

Tharoor has reportedly circulated the letter dated July 29 to the members of the panel.

On Thursday, Tharoor had taken a swipe at the BJP members of the parliamentary panel, saying “some elements” have chosen to reduce it to a “ping pong match” that is not in the spirit of Parliament.

An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers — Prahlad Singh Patel and Railways and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, businessman Anil Ambani, a former CBI chief, and at least 40 journalists are on the list on the leaked database of NSO. It is, however, not established that all the phones were hacked.


Also read: They came but were still absent — BJP ‘rebellion’ scuttles IT panel meet on Pegasus


 

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