Pegasus: Shashi Tharoor demands action against three officials who skipped Parliamentary panel meet

Congress MP and head of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, Shashi Tharoor has requested Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to take action against three representatives of union over “last-minute refusal” to attend panel meet on Wednesday, news agency PTI reported.

The IT panel was going discuss the Pegasus allegations against the Centre for using the spyware on citizens. Officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the Ministry of Communications (Department of Telecommunications) and the Ministry of Home Affairs were summoned on the subject ‘Citizens data security and privacy’.

The meeting, however could not take place as the members of Bhartiya Janata Party supposedly denied to take part in the talks. The BJP MP’s did not sign the attendance register, even though they were present in the room, which lead to a lack of quorum.

The parliamentary panel, comprising of 10 members from the Rajya Sabha and 21 from the Lok Sabha, needs the attendance of atleast 10 members to discuss matters.

In his letter to Mr Om Birla, Tharoor said that union ministry officials informed about their inability to attend the panel just before the sitting. The Congress MP told that the notification about the meeting was given as early as July 20, in which they had confirmed their participation.

Detailing the sequence of events,
Mr Tharoor said the MHA forwarded their mail at 2:33 pm, MeitY at 2:44 pm, all of them had sought exemption from appearance for the officer concerned.

The mail stated that 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 the union ministry for discussion and clarification on Bill at 3:45 pm.

Similarly, the Department of Telecommunications at 2:52 pm mailed saying that it was 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 IT panel he did not excuse these witnesses from attendance.

“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,” Mr Shashi Tharoor said.

Mr Tharoor had taken a swipe at the BJP MP’s of the IT panel on Thursday, saying that “some elements” have chosen to reduce it to a “ping pong match” that is not in the spirit of Parliament.

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

Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, a former CBI chief, two union ministers- Prahlad Singh Patel and Railways and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and businessman Anil Ambani and about 40 journalists are on the list on the leaked database of NSO. However it is not established that all the phones were hacked.

(Inputs from agencies)

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