Congress leader and Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Saturday wrote a letter to the Lok Sabha Speaker, seeking a “review” of “jurisdiction” and “processes” followed by Lok Sabha Ethics Committee in cash-for-query” case against TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
The letter comes before the Ethics Committee which is expected to submit its report on Moitra’s case in the winter session of parliament that begins on Monday. Chowdhury charged that there are “grey areas” in the processes followed in investigating and reporting on allegations against the TMC member.
“I would once again urge upon you to have the entire process relating to the jurisdiction and procedures followed examined and such remedial measures, as needed, taken towards streamlining the functioning,” the Congress leader stated in his letter defending Moitra. It has also been prompted by the “phenomenal coverage” of the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee’s proceedings in cash-for-query’ case against the TMC MP, which Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury felt was “unwarranted”.
Chowdhury pointed out that going by the media’s report, the Ethics Committee seems to have recommended the expulsion of Mahua Moitra from parliament, which he believed was an “extremely serious punishment and has very wide ramifications”.
The purported act of misdemeanour on the TMC MP’s part, which was sharing her login credentials and passwords for the official portal with a Dubai-based businessman to raise questions in parliament in return for gifts/favours, has also been compared with a 2005 case where ten LS members who were expelled for receiving cash for posing questions in parliament and also with HD Mudgal matter that dates back to 1951, he said.
These two previous cases and Moita’s issue are fundamentally different, not only regarding the charges involved but mainly on account of the mode or process of examining and reporting and the significance of the evidence, he remarked.
Referring to the 2005 case, he stated that persons involved in the scandal, including media personnel who carried out the sting operation, were examined, and their evidence was recorded and made part of the report of the panel. However, in Moitra’s case, it is not clear whether the well-established procedure was followed and an irrefutable money trail has been established, the LoP contended.
He also wondered why a Dubai-based businessman with access to the TMC MP’s login credentials turned against Moitra despite his interests being served by asking questions through that route. He also questioned panel chairman Brij Lal and complainant Nishikant Dubey, both from the BJP, openly airing their views and passing judgments in the cash-for-query case despite the confidential proceedings.
Defending Moitra, he also observed that advancements in and adoption of digital technologies have brought a sea change in the processes followed in conducting parliament business, including Question Hour, due to which members may become susceptible and unwittingly find themselves on the”wrong side”.
He took this opportunity to also recommend “review” and “recasting” rules and processes relating to the functioning of parliamentary committees that deals with MP’s privileges and ethics.
In the letter, the LoP said there is “no clear cut demarcation” in the roles of the Ethics Committee and Privileges Committees of Lok Sabha, which were before the 13th Lok Sabha. This is more apparent according to Chowdhury, when exercising their penal powers, the Congress leader brought to the notice of the Speaker.
“As on date there is no clear definition of “unethical conduct” and a “code of conduct” remains to be formulated though envisaged under Rules 316 B of Rules of Procedure. These issues, inclusive of the procedures being followed by the Committee, which have a significant bearing and influence on the polity, may require deeper attention, and the processes streamlined under your guidance and directions,” he suggested.
The Opposition leader also flagged in his letter that the rules of the Ethics Committee were formulated and firmed up for the first time when the Committee was functioning under the Chairmanship of veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani.