Amid a war of words between the BJP and Congress over procedures of parliamentary Standing Committee meetings, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has asked the chairpersons of House panels to not take up any matter that is sub judice or is related to national security, and to ensure confidentiality of the proceedings.
In a letter written on Tuesday, the Speaker drew the attention of the chairpersons to Direction 55 of ‘Directions by the Speaker’, which says “the proceedings of a Committee shall be treated as confidential and it shall not be permissible for a member of the Committee or any one who has access to its proceedings to communicate, directly or indirectly, to the press any information regarding its proceedings including its report or any conclusions arrived at, finally or tentatively, before the report has been presented to the House.”
The Committees should give due consideration, the Speaker said, to Rule 270 of the ‘Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha’, which says that a “Committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records”; however, “if any question arises whether the evidence of a person or the production of a document is relevant for the purposes of the Committee, the question shall be referred to the Speaker whose decision shall be final”.
The government may, under Rule 270, “decline to produce a document on the ground that its disclosure would be prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State”.
Birla also said that “as per convention, the Committees do not take those subjects for examination where the issue is pending in the courts”.
Birla’s letter drawing the attention of Committee chairpersons to the rules comes a few days after BJP MP Nishikant Dubey wrote to him seeking the removal of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor as chairman of the Standing Committee on Information Technology for allegedly “flouting”rules.
Sources said BJP MPs had raised the issue of Tharoor summoning Facebook, without first discussing it in the Committee, to explain a report in The Wall Street Journal that a top executive of the company in India had “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to BJP-linked individuals and groups, citing business imperatives.
However, the Speaker is learnt to have granted Tharoor approval after the Congress leader apprised him of the move. The Standing Committee will, in the afternoon of September 2, “hear the views of the representatives of Facebook on the subject safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”.
BJP leaders said the Speaker’s directive, however, makes it clear that the Tharoor-led Committee cannot take up the issues listed in the agenda of its meeting scheduled for September 1 – suspension of telecom/Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir and its impact, and the government’s ban on 59 apps with links to China.
Dubey, who is a member of the IT panel, had written to the Speaker seeking Tharoor’s removal, citing the “flawed mode and terrible disdain towards the established parliamentary institutions”. The BJP, Dubey said, did not have a problem with the panel summoning Facebook, but it wanted Tharoor to follow the rules.