Lok Sabha expelled TMC MP Mogua Moitra after the Parliamentary Ethics Committee indicted her for accepting cash, amenities, and other facilities from Dubai-based business tycoon Darshan Hiranandani in lieu of giving access to her official mail for posing self-enrichment commercial queries in Parliament. The Ethic Panel’s voluminous report was submitted in the afternoon and the Lok Sabha expulsion came within the hours in the face of several Opposition MPs demanding that they be given time to study the report.
The Opposition MPs also objected to the Speaker Om Birla’s decision to expel Moitra without giving her an opportunity to defend herself. The Government said that there was no precedent for allowing the MP in question a chance to give a statement in the House and cited former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s ruling at the time of expulsion of MPs during the cash-for-query scam during the UPA’s tenure in 2008.
Expulsion from parliament
The Opposition Members were livid at the haste with which the report was tabled and adopted by the Lower House after a limited discussion in which Moitra was not allowed to speak and charged that the Lok Sabha business rules were bypassed in terminating her membership. The entire Opposition rallied behind the TMC and walked out of the House before two resolutions were passed -- one for accepting the report and the other on Moitra’s expulsion from the parliament.
“The serious misdemenaour on the part of Mahua Moitra calls for severe punishment. The Committee, therefore, recommend that Mahua Moitra, MP, may be expelled from the Membership of the Seventeenth Lok Sabha,” read the report of the panel headed by BJP MP Vijay Kumar Sonkar.
“In view of highly objectionable, unethical, heinous and criminal conduct of Mahua Moitra, the Committee recommend for an intense, legal institutional inquiry by the Government of India in a time-bound manner,” the report concluded.
Moitra, backed by the entire Opposition, read out her speech from outside Parliament. With Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders standing beside her, she said Ethics Panel broke rules to indict her. “These findings are based solely on the written submission of two private citizens whose versions contradict each other in material terms and none of whom I was allowed to cross-examine. One of the two private citizens is my estranged partner who with mallafide intention has masqueraded as a common citizen in front of the committee. The two testimonies have been used to hang me, they are polar opposite to each other.”
Pointing out other anomalies, she observed; the complainant said, I accepted cash and consideration from a businessman to ask questions in furtherance of his commercial interest. “But the businessman’s suo-moto affidavit said I pressurised him into uploading questions to further my agenda. The two are polar opposites. The Ethics Committee without getting into route of this has decided to hang me. It refused to summon businessman to orally testify and there is no evidence of any cash or any gifts anywhere,” she counter-charged.
She also alleged that a single woman MP like her was being harassed to shut up to protect Adani.
This is for the first time that the Ethics Committee has recommended expulsion of a member of the House. On the verdict of Lok Sabha, Speaker Om Birla said, “I understand we have deep sympathy for our colleague members. However, the nation, the house and their reputation and dignity are above the sentiments of the members. Today, the house had to seriously consider and take a decision on an issue related with act of the member”.
He also stated that the decision was meant to restore “dignity”, “honour” and “soul” of parliament. Congress MP Manish Tiwari questioned the hurry in which the process was moved after the report was tabled at 12 which violated principles of natural justice. He also said that the panel was flawed in recommending Moitra guility which is the job of parliament.
Lawyer Jai Anant Dehadarai, the estranged partner of Moitra, alleged in his complaint that Moitra asked 50 questions in parliament out of total 61 which was with the intent of protecting or perpetuating business interest of Hiranandani and his company. The questions were meant to target the Adani group and through his referencing, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. He also charged that she accepted expensive gifts, cash and even her official MP bunglow was refurbished by the Dubai businessman.
The report also casts aspersions on BSP MP Danish Ali, a member of the panel, stating that he should be admonished for “twisting/moulding the intent of quesiton put forth by the Chairperson during her deposition on November 2, with the objective of fomenting the sentiments of public, at large, as well as, disparaging the self-esteem of chairperson and other members”.
The report was supposed to be tabled on the first day of winter session on December 4 but was postponed to Friday. The Ethics Committee at a meeting on November 9 adopted its report, with its six members, from the BJP and suspended Congress MP and wife of former Punjab CM Amrinder Singh, Preneet Kaur, voted in favour of the report. While four members of the panel belonging to opposition parties submitted dissent notes.
BOX -- SHOULD TMC MP HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO SPEAK IN LS BEFORE EXPULSION
The expulsion of Mahua Moitra by the Lok Sabha raises a substantive question as to whether she had the right to be heard by the House before the award of punishment. The Speaker referred to the ruling of the then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee when ten MPs of Lok Sabha were expelled in December, 2005 during the cash-for-query scam. The accused MPs were not allowed to speak in their defence by the Speaker then, was the ruling given by present Speaker Om Birla.
The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha do not have a provision for expulsion of MPs. Nothing, however, can prevent a Speaker to give a ruling on a new case considering its facts and circumstances, said Devender Singh Aswal, Ex-Additional Secretary Lok Sabha and author of “The Indian Parliament, Beyond the Sea and Signature of Democracy”.
“We cannot assail the ruling of the speaker in the given situation. But, had the Speaker given Mahua Moitra an opportunity to speak in her defence before she was expelled, it would have been in accordance with the salutary principles of natural justice. In fact, the right to be heard is the very cornerstone of our legal system and jurisprudence. Albeit, Mahua was given the opportunity by the Ethics Committee to defend herself,” Aswal who is now practising law said.