Updated: August 9, 2021 3:24:32 am
ALTHOUGH THE Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology could not take up a discussion on the Pegasus snooping issue at its last meeting after BJP members on the panel blocked proceedings of the meeting citing lack of quorum, panel chairman Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said he was hopeful that the committee will take up the issue going forward.
The last meeting on July 28 also saw, what Tharoor calls, “last minute refusal” by representatives of three ministries to attend it. Tharoor has since then written to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, asking him to take “serious cognizance” of the matter and called the conduct of the officials “unprecedented”, “breach of parliamentary privilege” and “contempt of the House”.
Talking to The Indian Express, Tharoor said the IT committee had been conducting discussions on citizens’ data privacy and security for the past two years. He said cyber security topics had also featured in its agenda under the previous chairman, BJP’s Anurag Thakur.
“The Pegasus issue therefore clearly falls under the purview of the IT committee and within these subjects on its agenda. So, it is only expected that members of the IT committee will ask questions about it when these topics arise. It is no secret that the committee’s meeting on its established agenda was disrupted by BJP members who did not want Pegasus to be discussed,” he said.
“It was unprecedented for 10 members to attend and to refuse to sign the register in order to prevent a discussion. And three officials who were supposed to testify that day appear to have been instructed not to attend, making last-minute excuses, which is a grievous assault on the prerogatives of parliamentary committees to summon witnesses,” he said.
Arguing that accountability to Parliament is a cornerstone of India’s democracy, Tharoor said “but it is increasingly being tossed aside in the current regime’s headlong rush to autocracy”.
“Despite this disappointing approach I am hopeful that we will be able to take up the question going forward. And I would say that though we will take it up to the extent that the committee is able to act, I have proposed from the start that what we really need is a Supreme Court monitored inquiry headed by a serving judge or a recently retired judge to conduct a fair, impartial and thorough investigation of the Pegasus issue,” he said.
The judiciary, he said, has different powers and a degree of immunity from politics that would make it better suited than a committee of MPs to explore all aspects of the Pegasus question.
“The IT panel might still discuss it because the topics remain on the agenda and we have to write a report on but there is no doubt on my mind that if you really want some answers the judiciary can get more searching answers… the judiciary would for example have the right to send the phones of the people who volunteer to surrender their phones to a judge… they can send it for independent forensic analysis and so on which a parliamentary committee does not have the mandate to do,” he said.
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