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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Pegasus issue rocks Parliament yet again; Bill to restore states’ rights on OBC list tabled

As the House met, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu lauded India’s “medal winners and gritty losers in close finishes” at the Tokyo Olympics.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 9, 2021 8:36:25 pm
The Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) also staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha.

The proceedings of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were disrupted several times on Monday as the Opposition parties continued their protest over the Pegasus snooping row, farm laws and other issues. The Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) also staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha.

In Rajya Sabha, the proceedings were adjourned twice in the pre-lunch session following uproar by Opposition members.

As the House met, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu lauded India’s “medal winners and gritty losers in close finishes” at the Tokyo Olympics and said that India shall look at breaking into the top 10 at the earliest possible. He termed the Indian contingent’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics “the first moment of national awakening in sports”.

Following his speech, Opposition parties insisted on a discussion on the issue of Israeli-made military-grade Pegasus spyware allegedly being used to snoop on opposition leaders, government critics and journalists. As Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said he has admitted the discussion on the farmers’ agitation against the farm laws, price rise, and the flood situation in some parts of the country, the Opposition parties insisted that the Pegasus issue should also be discussed. Some Opposition members stood up and moved towards the Well of the House, following which Naidu adjourned the proceedings till 12 pm.

When the House meet at noon after an adjournment, Deputy Chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh, who was in the chair, proceeded with the scheduled Question Hour. But the opposition members continued to create an uproar and jumped in the well sloganeering over the Pegasus snooping controversy, farm laws and other issues. Immediately after that Singh adjourned the House till 2 pm.

The House then assembled at 3.30 pm with Leader of Opposition and Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge protesting against the taking up of the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, saying the supplementary agenda was circulated at 2.15 pm. He said the members of the House cannot do justice during the debate on “bill which gets circulate only a few hours before being taken up”.

Following this the Congress, TMC and DMK staged a walkout.

In the meanwhile, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman moved The Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill for consideration and return. It was passed later on with brief a debate. The Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was also passed after a brief debate.

Furthermore, a bill seeking to abolish as many as nine appellate tribunals, including the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), was also passed in the Rajya Sabha.

Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha also witnessed continuous protests by opposition members over Pegasus snooping controversy and other issues. When the House met for the day in the morning, Opposition members sought to raise various issues, including the Pegasus spyware controversy and started shouting slogans following which the proceedings were adjourned till 11:30 am.

When the Question Hour resumed at 11:30 am, Opposition members trooped into the well. Soon, Rajendra Agrawal, who was in the Chair, adjourned the House till noon.

When the House met again at noon, Agarwal allowed papers related to different ministries to be tabled in the House. Then Aayush Minister Sarbananda Sonowal introduced The National Commission for Homoeopathy

(Amendment) Bill, 2021 and The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine (Amendment) Bill, 2021 amidst strong opposition. However, Sonowal defended the bill saying it is very important for the country and members should appreciate it.

Later, Social Justice and Empowerment minister Virendra Kumar introduced The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021. Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury strongly opposed the move and said that the entire opposition has been demanding discussion on the alleged snooping by Pegasus spyware but the government was ignoring the demand. Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Meghwal strongly objected it, saying the government was ready for discussion on all issues.

As protests, continued, Agarwal adjourned the House till 12.30 pm.

When the House met again, the House passed The Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill 2021 and The Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2021 amidst strong opposition protests. The House also passed The Constitution (Schedule Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill 2021 after a brief discussion amidst opposition protests.

Soon, the chair adjourned the House till 2 pm.

As the House reconvened at 2 pm after being adjourned four times before in the day, opposition members trooped into the Well. Rama Devi, who was in the Chair, urged the members to go back to their seats and let the discussion on Covid-19 take place. As the protesting members were unwilling to relent, the House was adjourned for the day.

Earlier, Speaker Om Birla, on behalf of the House, paid tributes to those who had participated in the Quit India Movement. The members also stood in silence for a brief while as a mark of respect to those who took part in that movement. Birla also mentioned about India’s performance at the just-concluded Olympic games at Tokyo and congratulated the medal winners.

No transaction with NSO Group: MoD on the company at the centre of snooping row

In the midst of the Pegasus snooping controversy, the defence ministry on Monday said it did not have any transaction with the NSO Group, which sells the spyware.

NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance software company, has been under increasing attack following allegations that its Pegasus software was used for surveillance of phones of people in several countries, including India.

“Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies,” Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt said while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha.

He was asked whether the government had carried out any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies.

The opposition parties have been targeting the central government over the snooping row and disrupting proceedings in Parliament since it met on July 19 for the Monsoon session.

IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had dismissed media reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the Monsoon session of Parliament were aimed at maligning Indian democracy.

In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw had said that with several checks and balances being in place, “any sort of illegal surveillance” by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.

The controversy erupted after an investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data claimed evidence that the military-grade malware from the NSO Group was being used to spy on politicians, journalists, human rights activists and others.

(With inputs from PTI)

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