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MHA order on monitoring: Cong alleges ‘undeclared emergency’, Jaitley says rules framed in UPA regime

The Home Ministry's order authorising 10 central investigative agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt "any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer" rocked the Upper House on Friday.

MHA order on monitoring: Cong alleges 'undeclared emergency', Jaitley says rules framed in UPA regime Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at Parliament House on Friday. (Express Photo: Anil Sharma)

The Home Ministry’s order authorising 10 central investigative agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer” rocked the Upper House on Friday.

While the Congress accused the government of imposing “undeclared emergency” and running a “police state”, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended the government, clarifying that the rules under which Thursday’s order was brought out were framed during the UPA regime, and that the Opposition was “making a mountain where even a molehill does not exist”.

Also read : Under fire, govt defends order to intercept: Not new, strict checks

The commotion that followed, with Congress MPs shouting slogans, forced the deputy chairman to adjourn the House for the day within 25 minutes of its meeting after lunch.

The matter was first raised in the Rajya Sabha by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad. He objected to the Union government placing Jammu and Kashmir under President’s Rule without any discussion in the two Houses of Parliament. He then went on to describe the MHA order on interception as “undeclared emergency”. “All central agencies, all federal agencies have been let loose in the country,” he said.

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There was a commotion after Azad’s comment. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Goel said the government is ready to discuss all issues, whether CBI or RBI. To Azad’s objection regarding President’s Rule in J&K, Deputy Chairman Harivansh informed the House that the matter will be discussed soon since the government has moved a statutory resolution on the same and Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu has admitted it.

Congress MP Anand Sharma joined Azad in expressing concern over the MHA order. “Right to privacy is a citizen’s fundamental right… Nine agencies and Delhi Police have been given sweeping powers… Our country will soon become a police state and that is not acceptable to us,” he said.

Jaitley said that the MHA order is not new and, in fact, the rules under which it was issued were made under by the UPA government. “In 2009, when Mr Anand Sharma was minister, the UPA made a law under which agencies were authorised to intercept. It’s under that same law and rules, the orders of authorisation are repeated from time to time. On December 20 that same order has been repeated, which has been happening since 2009 when your government was in power,” he said. “So what you are doing Mr Anand Sharma is making a mountain where even a molehill does not exist.”

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When Azad pointed out that the December 20 order does not mention national security, Jaitley responded, “This is an elementary thing. What you have is an authorisation order. Provisions of national security are mentioned in Section 69 of the IT Act. You are playing with the security of the country.”

Azad said, “It seems like those who helped in getting freedom for the country are not concerned about national security and those who had no role are lecturing us about national security. Is national security their property?”

To this, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that Azad belongs to a party that imposed emergency and restrictions on the press. He later urged the Opposition to “not play with national security”.

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As ruckus ensued, the deputy chairman took up the private members resolution on the uplift of widows in the country. Ravi Prakash Sharma of SP spoke on the issue, but Congress MPs continued shouting slogans and BJP MPs shouted back. The House was adjourned for the day.

Earlier in the day, outside the Rajya Sabha, SP and TMC joined Congress in criticising the government. While SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav called the order unconstitutional, TMC’s Sukhendu Sekhar Roy termed it draconian. AAP’s Sanjay Singh said that the MHA move endangers rivals of the ruling party. Former finance minister P Chidambaram said, “If anybody is going to monitor computers then it is an Orwellian state.”

Later, Prasad defended the order, stating that earlier interception was done on ad-hoc basis and the order defines the entire exercise and the 10 agencies have been codified, underlining their accountability. Prasad assured that the 10 agencies will be accountable for their actions.

First published on: 22-12-2018 at 03:04:22 am
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