Expel Mahua: Ethics panel

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Expel Mahua: Ethics panel

Friday, 10 November 2023 | PTI | New Delhi

Expel Mahua: Ethics panel

A Lok Sabha committee on Thursday recommended TMC leader Mahua Moitra’s expulsion from the House for accepting “illegal gratifications” from a businessman to raise questions in Parliament at his behest, capping weeks of intense political bickering and high drama parallel to its proceedings.

The Lok Sabha Ethics Committee, chaired by BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar, met here and adopted its 479-page report on the “cash for query” allegations against her after six of the 10 members present voted in support and four Opposition MPs recorded their disapproval.

Sources said the committee recommended Moitra’s expulsion from the Lok Sabha for “unethical conduct” and “contempt of the House”, possibly the first such action against an MP by the panel.

As soon as the committee met on Thursday, some Opposition members sought to voice their dissent but Sonkar asserted that the adoption of the report was the only agenda item and put it to vote.

He told reporters that six members of the panel supported adoption of the report and four opposed it, and indicated that Congress MP Preneet Kaur sided with BJP members of the panel.

It was a matter of Parliament’s prestige and she decided to protect it, he said.

Kaur’s husband and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh is in the BJP, and the Congress had suspended her from the party earlier this year.

The ethics panel report will now be tabled in the Lok Sabha which will then vote on a motion to put the recommendation into action.

Four Opposition members said the panel’s recommendation was “prejudiced” and “incorrect”, and said businessman Darshan Hiranandani, who is alleged to have given bribes to Moitra, should have been asked to depose before the panel. He has only filed an affidavit.

PR Natarajan of the CPI(M) questioned the committee’s power in recommending a member’s expulsion, while V Vaithilingam of the Congress said it should have examined Dubai-based businessman Hiranandai, who has in his sworn affidavit said that he gave bribes and gifts to Moitra to ask questions in the Lok Sabha at his behest.

BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi, a member of the panel, said, “These are baseless claims. Darshan Hiranandani has given a sworn affidavit, which is sufficient.”

She also rejected Opposition members’ claim that Moitra’s submission is not yet complete, asserting that the TMC MP was given ample time by the committee to present her side of the story.

In her first reaction after the panel’s recommendation, Moitra told PTI: “This is a pre-fixed match by a kangaroo court, which is of no surprise or consequence. But the larger message for the country is that for India, it is the death of parliamentary democracy.”

The committee’s draft report, sources said, has cited the threats India faces from state and non-state cyber actors to indict Moitra for sharing her log-in credentials with Hiranandani, noting that he has residency rights in Dubai and has close relatives who are foreign nationals.

“This creates a serious risk of leakage of sensitive material to foreign agencies,” the panel has concluded, as it cited the report submitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to record that her portal was operated 47 times from the UAE between July 2019 and April 2023, a source said.

The committee also came to a conclusion with a majority view that the allegations that she accepted “illegal gratifications” from Hiranandani have been clearly established, sources said, adding that it went by her own deposition and her remarks to the media.

However, in reference to the allegations that she also accepted cash from the businessman, the panel has acknowledged that it does not have the technical wherewithal and expertise to criminally investigate and unearth the money trail.

This is invariably the task of central government institutions, sources said citing its observations. The panel has recommended that any “quid pro quo” could be investigated by the government in a time-bound manner.

The report, which will be submitted to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, also charged BSP member of the committee Danish Ali with unruly conduct and spreading rumours and sought that he should be admonished for twisting the intent of questions posed by Sonkar to Moitra during her deposition on November 2.

Ali had then accused him of asking indecent questions to a woman MP and stormed out of the meeting along with four other opposition members besides Moitra.

The BSP MP said the committee acted in a hurry and accused it of double standards.

Trouble for Moitra began when BJP MP Nishikant Dubey forwarded a complaint against the Trinamool Congress member by lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai to the Lok Sabha Speaker, accusing her of taking bribes for asking questions in the House at the behest of businessman Hiranandani to target the Adani Group and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Moitra has denied the charge of receiving any pecuniary benefit.

The complaint, dated October 15, had its share of intrigue when Hiranandani, whom the TMC MP called a friend, submitted a sworn affidavit to the Lok Sabha panel stating that he had given expensive gifts to her.

The complaint also triggered a political slugfest with both Moitra and Dubey trading charges.

The Ethics Committee held its first meeting on the matter on October 26 when Dehadrai and Dubey submitted their evidence against Moitra. The Trinamool leader was the next to depose before the committee on November 2, which ended in high-drama with opposition members storming out of the meeting claiming indecent posers by the chairman to Moitra.

Former secretary general of the Lok Sabha P D T Achary said this is perhaps the first time the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee has recommended the expulsion of an MP.

In 2005, eleven MPs were expelled from Parliament in another ‘cash-for-query’ case but those expulsions were recommended by the Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee and a Lok Sabha Inquiry Committee.

The proceedings of the ‘cash-for-query’ issue in 2005 too was a fast-track one with the matter coming to light on December 12 and leading to the expulsion of the members on December 23, 2005.

Achary said the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee report will now be sent to the speaker, who may order that it be published.

During the next session of Parliament, the committee chairman will table the report in the House and thereafter there will be a debate on it, followed by a vote on a government motion for the member’s expulsion, Achary said.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Thursday came out in strong support of Moitra, with party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee claiming that whoever questioned the government was “harassed” by the BJP-led NDA dispensation at the Centre.

Banerjee, who was speaking to reporters in Kolkata after appearing before the Enforcement Directorate in connection with an ongoing probe into the alleged school jobs scam in the state, also questioned how a parliamentary committee could consider acting against Moitra even before the accusations against her were proven.

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