Lok sabha TV and the secretariat of the lower house of Parliament Tuesday blamed the almost 80-minute blackout of the live telecast of proceedings – when the hugely controversial bill to create Telangana was being passed – on a “technical snag” and ordered separate inquiries to “probe” the incident.
But Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told The Indian Express that “it was a decision of the Lok Sabha secretariat”.
Top government sources also told The Indian Express that the live telecast was turned off on instructions from the government.
“We received oral instructions from an official that the live coverage should be discontinued till the contentious Bill was passed. Since he was the official we frequently deal with in connection with Lok Sabha TV coverage and visuals, we did the needful,” one source said.
Another key official said proceedings were blanked out “as per orders” and that the channel was otherwise up and running. “It was an unusual instruction but we were simply following orders,” he said.
Live telecast of proceedings began at 3 pm when the house reassembled after an adjournment. Having aired Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s address as he moved the Telangana Bill, the Lok Sabha channel abruptly stopped broadcasting the live feed as soon as leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj began speaking.
Amid allegations that the blackout was a deliberate ploy adopted by the government to help push through the legislation without making a public spectacle out of it, both Lok Sabha TV as well as the Lok Sabha secretariat denied the suggestions and maintained that a technical snag led to the telecast being suspended.
“I am told by the technical department that there was a technical snag in our main control room in Room 50 in the Parliament building. There was some problem in getting the live feed from the control room to our uplinking station in the Parliament library building. The uplinking station was working fine and that was why we could air other content. The snag happened in the control room,” Lok Sabha TV’s CEO Rajiv Mishra told The Indian Express.
The channel’s technical staff have been asked to find out what led to the blackout and submit a report by Wednesday, he added.
Lok Sabha Secretary-General S Bal Shekar too blamed a “technical problem”.
“There was a technical problem and they were trying to solve it. Both the press gallery and the public gallery were full. Nothing was being hidden from anyone,” Shekar told The Indian Express.
He also dismissed charges that the blackout was ordered by the government. “We have ordered an inquiry. We are trying to find out what led to this situation so that this doesn’t happen in future. We will have to take extra measures to prevent a repeat of something like this,” he added.
But the opposition BJP did not accept the claim.
Calling it a “tactical glitch” and not a technical one, Swaraj condemned the blackout and said it was done without her party’s knowledge.
In a series of tweets, Swaraj said: “We strongly condemn the black out of the proceedings of Lok Sabha. It was done without our knowledge…I am sorry to inform that Lok Sabha Sectt is not providing us the audio or video recording of my today’s speech on Telangana Bill…I will raise this matter with the Speaker tomorrow… They say that the black out of Lok Sabha was due to a ‘technical glitch’. No. It was a tactical glitch.”
Incidentally, as Swaraj spoke in the house, some BJP MPs including Shahnawaz Hussain and Anurag Thakur got up and shouted that Lok Sabha TV had been blacked out. However, senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, who was sitting in the front row between Rajnath Singh and Swaraj, gestured to them to calm down.
BJP sources later said they decided not to push the issue to ensure peace during Swaraj’s speech. In fact, L K Advani, who was watching the proceedings on TV initially, thought that the house was adjourned but had to rush inside after he was informed about the blackout. However, he missed Swaraj’s speech as she had concluded when he reached.