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Bugging issue: Opposition demands judicial probe, PM statement

Source: PTI
July 31, 2014 14:35 IST
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Opposition led by Congress on Thursday upped the ante against the government on the bugging issue demanding a judicial probe and a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter which, they said, has put NDA's credibility at stake.

There were sharp exchanges between the opposition members and the treasury benches over the issue, with the opposition adamant on a debate saying it is a breach of privilege over which the government can even be dismissed.

"When Ministers', MPs' phones are tapped, secrecy is breached. People's faith in the Council of Ministers has been shaken. To help restore that faith, constitute a judicial committee to probe the matter," Pramod Tiwari (Cong) said, raising a point of order.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venakaih Naidu, however, dismissed the demand saying, "I have to set the record straight. There is no need of an inquiry without any substantive reason."

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien had a tough time in maintaining order in the House, as members kept raising points of order with the purpose of pressing for a discussion.

The Upper House saw three adjournments -- two in the Question Hour and another in the Zero Hour -- and no business could be taken up during the pre-lunch sitting for the second day in succession except laying of papers.

The chair ruled that there was no point of order as Home Minister Rajnath Singh has already stated that there is no truth in the allegations of bugging.

"As far as chair is concerned, available material is only the statement of the Home minister. I am unable to find any substantial material to prove that (bugging). Therefore, I cannot allow the question of privilege. The chair cannot go by newspaper reports. It has to go by facts," Kurien said while refusing a point of order raised by opposition members.

Without naming the prime minister, Tiwari alleged that "some people have the history of tapping phones of ministers in states", while K C Tyagi (JD-U) said history is witness to fall of governments in US and India on such issues.

Linking the issue with the privilege of members, the opposition said the government can be dismissed over the matter and cited the examples of resignations of US President Richard Nixon and India's Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, who had to quit after phone tapping allegations.

Quoting a report, P Rajeev (CPM) said the alleged recovery of high-powered listening equipment was part of the US surveillance programme on Indian leaders.

Raising the issue of then Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, whose phone call records were accessed without authorisation during the UPA regime, Naresh Agrawal (SP) said that time too government had denied it.

"But subsequently, it was proved that his phone was tapped and some people were also arrested by Delhi Police. There was a discussion on the issue then," he said, questioning, "Why not now?"

Agrawal raised the issue of members' rights, which he alleged have been violated and reminded the chair that it was "your duty to provide protection to us".

Supporting him, Tyagi said, "It is not small issue. US President Nixon and Indian Prime Minister Chandrashekhar had resigned on this issue (of phone tapping)."

Satyavrat Chaturvedi (Cong) stressed that debate should take place as they had already given notices.

"It is a violation of members privilege...that is why we want discussion. The issue is so serious that the government can be sacked. If there was no tapping why are you shying away from discussion," asked Ashwani Kumar (Cong).

This was countered by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (BJP) who termed the allegations as "unfounded" and "uncalled for" when the House had many important issues to discuss like flood and loss of lives in Pune due to landslide. Many BJP members were on feet.

For the second consecutive day, the Upper House witnessed uproar from the start of day on the issue of alleged surveillance and phone tapping of Cabinet ministers, with Opposition forcing two adjournments during the Question Hour.

Members from Congress insisted on a probe into the matter even as Naidu tried to pacify them, saying Home minister has already clarified that there was no truth in such reports.

As soon as the House met for the day, members from Congress, SP and some other opposition parties raised the matter.

On Wednesday also the House was adjourned twice during Question Hour as Congress members created storm over reports that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari's house and telephone were bugged and high powered listening devices were found in his bedroom.

Insisting that notices were given for discussion on the issue, Deputy Leader of Congress in the Upper House Anand Sharma demanded discussion and probe into the matter.

Quoting the Home Minister, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prakash Javadekar said "this is a baseless" issue and "there is nothing to discuss".

In his effort to bring order in the House, Chairman Hamid Ansari said disruption of Question Hour infringes on rights of members who want to ask questions.

As the opposition remained adamant, Ansari adjourned the House for 15 minutes. When the House reassembled, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the bugging issue was appearing in newspapers and on TV channels for last 3-4 days and there were reports that phones of some cabinet members were being tapped.

With the opposition refusing to yield, the Chair adjourned the House till noon. When the House reassembled, it was again adjourned till 2 pm after 30 minutes of ruckus.

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