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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Phone taps rock Rajasthan House, BJP MLA suspended for a week

In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot reiterated his stance on phone tapping and shared his comments from last year where he had said on several instances that phones of MPs and MLAs were not tapped.

Written by Hamza Khan | Jaipur |
Updated: March 17, 2021 7:54:58 am
Phone taps rock Rajasthan House, BJP MLA suspended for a weekChief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot

The Congress government’s admission, in a written reply to a question in the Rajasthan Assembly, that phones were “intercepted” during the political crisis in the state last year rocked proceedings in the House Tuesday, and a BJP MLA was suspended for seven days.

In the Zero Hour, an adjournment motion was moved by BJP MLA Kalicharan Saraf regarding invasion of privacy of public due to phone tapping. Another motion was moved by Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore over tapping of phones of Rajasthan’s public representatives, MPs, Union Ministers “without authorisation,” and the subsequent invasion of their privacy.

Speaker C P Joshi, however, rejected both motions and the deadlock led to proceedings being adjourned four times. Later, BJP MLA Madan Dilawar was suspended from the House for seven days after attempts to evict him failed since he was shielded by his party colleagues.

In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot reiterated his stance on phone tapping and shared his comments from last year where he had said, inside the House and in interviews to electronic media, that the phones of MPs and MLAs were not tapped.

“I have already said everything in the Assembly on August 14, 2020. It seems that this is BJP’s internal fight, a fight for domination where issues are being created without reason, and attempts are being made to disturb the House,” he said.

On Monday, The Indian Express had reported that the state government, in reply to a question by former Health Minister Saraf, had admitted to intercepting phones during the political crisis last year.

The confirmation was posted on the website of the Assembly in reply to Saraf’s question: “Is it true that phone tapping cases have come up in the last days? If yes, under which law and on whose orders? Place full details on the table of the House.”

In its reply, given after a delay of several months, the government said: “In the interest of public safety or public order, and to prevent the occurrence of a crime which might risk public safety or public order, telephones are intercepted after an approval by a competent officer under the provisions of section 5(2) of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and section 419 (A) of The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, as well as section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

“Telephone interception has been done by the Rajasthan Police under the above provision and only after obtaining permission from the competent officer.”

The government did not specify the telephone numbers that were intercepted, and the time for which they were put under surveillance.

In the House Tuesday, after the adjournment motions were moved, Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria turned to the Speaker and said “the phone tapping issue is important because the (Congress) Chief Whip (Mahesh Joshi) had an FIR registered in connection with phone tapping, which led to arrests. Now who ordered phone tapping, under what right, and then you had FIRs registered (citing those recordings), then it is settled that the government had phones tapped.”

“The government and the Home department usually authorise phone taps to nab accused but there is an authorised way; Home Department can tap as many phones as it wants and it reserves this right. We just want to know whether this FIR was under that law, and hence our prayer is that we want to discuss this in the House,” he said.

Speaker Joshi, however, said, “I will not allow the adjournment motion, newspapers cannot influence House proceedings. For TRPs, there can be talk on television, newspapers can sensationalise.” He said phones are tapped as per law and “now if someone’s privacy has been breached, you should tell whose.” He said that in its present form, “it is not worthy of adjournment motion”.

“Give me records… (The motions) don’t mention whether Rathoreji’s or Katariaji’s (privacy) has been breached. So I will not allow discussion on your adjournment motions. I have rejected them,” he said.

This led to an uproar and the BJP and Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MLAs stormed the Well and began raising slogans, demanding the Chief Minister’s resignation.

Proceedings were adjourned a third time when Kataria proposed that they meet in the Speaker’s chamber where they would apprise him of “facts”. The deadlock could not be resolved, and when the House convened around 2 pm, Opposition MLAs again stormed the Well.

Around 3.10 pm, during a discussion on Budget grants for education, arts and culture, BJP MLA Madan Dilawar went near independent MLA Sanyam Lodha, considered close to CM Gehlot, while he was speaking from his seat in the second row.

Dilawar then started shouting slogans while pointing fingers at Lodha; his speech disrupted, Lodha brought it to the attention of the Speaker, who asked Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal to move a motion to evict Dilawar from the House.

After the House passed the motion with a voice vote, marshals rushed inside and tried to enter the Well. But BJP MLAs encircled Dilawar and prevented his eviction. As the ruckus continued, the House was adjourned for a fourth time. Proceedings resumed at 3.45 pm, and the House was adjourned for the day at 6.40 pm. But the BJP MLAs did not end their dharna inside the Well.

In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot reiterated his stance on phone tapping and shared his comments from last year where he had said, inside the House and in interviews to electronic media, that the phones of MPs and MLAs were not tapped. “I have already said everything in the Assembly on August 14, 2020. It seems that this is BJP’s internal fight, a fight for domination where issues are being created without reason, and attempts are being made to disturb the House,” he said.

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