Our Bureau

New Delhi, Aug. 29

THE episode relating to the controversial engagement of Ms Nalini Chidambaram as a special counsel of the Income Tax Department ended on an acrimonious note on Monday.

The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, ruled that the Opposition could not seek clarifications on the personal explanation made on the issue by the Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram.

On his part, the Finance Minister told the Rajya Sabha that he had no knowledge of the Income Tax Department's move to engage his wife Ms Nalini Chidambaram as a special counsel in a case before the Madras High Court. He said that the entire issue came to his notice for the first time only after a Rajya Sabha member made an attempt to raise the matter in the Upper House.

"I want to make it clear that I had no knowledge on the matter at any stage during the relevant period. I would also like to add that had the matter been brought to my notice at any time earlier, I would have ensured that the proposal to engage Ms Nalini Chidambaram was nipped in the bud and not processed any further," Mr Chidambaram said.

He was making a personal explanation on this issue under rule 241 of the rules of procedure and conduct of business of the Rajya Sabha. The Finance Minister also highlighted that the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had, in its statement on August 26, admitted that it was a lapse on its part not to have informed him on the proposed engagement before it granted approval of the same. The CBDT had also expressed regret on its lapse.

After the Finance Minister read out his personal explanation, the Opposition members urged the Chairman to give them the right to seek clarifications on the statement. This was, however, not acceptable to the Chairman, who cited precedence to state that no debate would be allowed on a personal explanation made by a Minister under rule 241.

The Opposition members said that the Finance Minister is not a member of the Rajya Sabha and should not have been given the privilege of a personal explanation under rule 241. Mr Shekhawat, however, said that the Opposition must have raised an objection on this issue when the Minister started reading his statement.

BJP member, Ms Sushma Swaraj, demanded that the Opposition be given the right to seek clarifications on the statement made by the Finance Minister. "Give us the right to seek clarifications on the statement. Otherwise, he (Finance Minister) can get away with anything and everything. The essence of his statement is that he has no knowledge. I want to ask you. Is ignorance an excuse? We want an answer from the Minister who is guilty of nepotism, corruption and favouritism," Ms Swaraj said.

The entire issue rocked Rajya Sabha on Monday, with the Opposition members' actions forcing two adjournments during the day.

Later, amidst the din caused by slogan-shouting by the Opposition members, the Upper House passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Bill by a voice vote, thereby giving a Parliamentary seal for the important legislation.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 30, 2005)
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