The secret videotapes believed to contain images related to the bribes-for-votes scandal have turned up grainy footage of poor picture and audio quality, sources said.
The tapes, part of a sting operation by the CNN-IBN channel, are at the heart of allegations that three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs were bribed Rs 1 crore to abstain from voting in Lok Sabha on July 22.
The tapes and cash are currently in the custody of Lok Sabha Secretary General PDT Achary and will be seen by the seven-member panel that Speaker Somnath Chatterjee set up on Saturday to look into the complaints of the BJP MPs, sources told Hindustan Times.
The Speaker has already received formal complaints from the three BJP MPs who have named SP’s Allahabad MP Reoti Raman Singh, party general secretary Amar Singh and the Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel as the people who allegedly offered them the bribe.
Sources in CNN-IBN said Singh and Patel do not figure in the tapes. But the Deo panel is likely to study both the physical and circumstantial evidence before reaching a conclusion.
The panel, which been asked to give its report by August 11 when Parliament opens for its monsoon session, is headed by V Kishore Chandra S Deo (Congress). It includes V K Malhotra (BJP), Mohammad Salim (CPM), Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), Devendra Yadav (RJD), Rajesh Verma (BSP) and C Kuppusami (DMK).
Members of the panel were restricted to the Lok Sabha, where the scandal unfolded. Deo, who also heads the Privileges Committee of the Lok Sabha, had earlier headed an inquiry into the MP Local Area Development Fund (MPLAD) scandal in which members were caught on camera negotiating payments for recommending projects.
For its part, the BJP was quick to question the Speaker’s decision to constitute the panel without consulting them. Leader of Opposition L K Advani has convened a meeting of NDA partners to finalise a combined response to the panel.
Given the poor quality of the tapes, the news channel could also be asked by the panel whether the tapes were original or copies.
Courts treat video-recordings as secondary evidence, taken into account after studying the primary evidence. However, Parliament made no such distinction while expelling MPs who sold their basic privilege of asking questions to make the government accountable to Parliament. The same yardstick held good for the House panels that probed the MPLADs scam.
The other aspect of the parliamentary probe will go into the circumstances in which the money was carried into the House. In the past, the Parliament’s committee dealing with security issues had opposed frisking of MPs – something that helped those who carted the money into the House without the Speaker’s prior clearance.