As fresh allegations of sexual assault, including rape, surfaced against former Union Minister M J Akbar Friday, there are indications that the Rajya Sabha MP could come under the glare of the Upper House’s Ethics Committee.
Some of Akbar’s former colleagues who have spoken out against him are learnt to have informally approached members of the panel. While one member of the committee said, on the condition of anonymity, that a woman journalist has taken up the matter with him, at least two members were of the view that the matter could be considered by the panel.
Akbar was elected to Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh in 2016.
When contacted, committee chairman BJP MP Narayan Lal Panchariya told The Indian Express: “If any complaint comes, we will go by the procedure and Akbar case may come on Rajya Sabha ethics panel radar take up the matter.”
The Ethics Committee’s mandate is “to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of members”, prepare a Code of Conduct for members and examine cases concerning alleged breach of the Code of Conduct by members and allegations of any other ethical misconduct.
Any person can make a complaint to the committee which can also take up matters suo motu.
If a member is found to have indulged in unethical behaviour, misconduct or contravened the Code and Rules, the committee may recommend imposition of one or more of sanctions which include: censure, suspension and any other sanction determined by the committee to be appropriate.
“I would call it allegations only. Unless it is referred to the Ethics Committee, it may not be taken up. Nonetheless, the latest charges (against Akbar) are very serious in nature and the committee can take it up suo motu but I don’t think BJP will do it,” said K Keshava Rao, a member of the Committee. Rao, who represents Andhra Pradesh in the upper house, is from Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
Another member, on the condition of anonymity, said the issue will be raised in the committee when it meets next. “Some members will write to the Ethics Committee. It may happen. Ethics Committee will have to take up the matter. I expect that,” he said.
Sources said some women have been in touch with the MPs and have been advised to write directly to individual members of the committee rather than wait for a response from chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.
“The idea is to put pressure on Akbar not just to resign but to put pressure through his colleagues. Some MPs have informally been in touch with the victims and told them that the sheer heft of 12 women writing to every member of the committee would ensure that the complaints are taken up regardless of party positions. However, no letter has been received so far,” a source said.
That this is uncharted terrain is something the committee is well aware of. P D T Achary, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, said the Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction is limited. “It does not extend to his/her behaviour in his previous career. Parliament’s Ethics Committee is to look into the conduct of a member during his tenure,”Achary said.