Centre: No scope for discussion on Pegasus
As opposition parties revived their attack on the Centre over the Pegasus snooping row, the government on Monday said there was no need for a separate debate on the matter since it was already under investigation by a Supreme Court-appointed panel
As opposition parties revived their attack on the Centre over the Pegasus snooping row, the government on Monday said there was no need for a separate debate on the matter since it was already under investigation by a Supreme Court-appointed panel.
Across three all-party meetings which were held virtually ahead of the Budget session, the Opposition sought an explanation from the Union government over the alleged use of Pegasus. It also cited a report by The New York Times last week that said New Delhi bought the Israeli spyware in 2017 as part of a $2-billion package.
In two of the three all-party meetings, the Opposition demanded a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that only such a pronouncement can ensure the smooth sailing of the Budget session, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named. At least two senior Opposition leaders did not rule out protests in this regard, starting from as early as Wednesday, they added.
At a meeting chaired by Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla, the Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s Sudip Bandopadhyay, the Congress’s Lok Sabha floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and DMK leader TR Balu demanded that PM Modi give a statement in both Houses over the matter.
However, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi pointed out that a discussion at this stage would hardly be useful as the Supreme Court panel is looking at all aspects of the allegations, referring to the expert committee, set up by an order on October 27. The panel, chaired by retired judge RV Raveendran, is engaging the services of some well-known experts in the field of computer science, cybersecurity and digital forensics to probe the matter.
Hours later, defence minister Rajnath Singh chaired an all-party meeting convened by Joshi where Opposition leaders reiterated their demand for a clarification.
Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party also demanded a debate on the issue.. “At the all-party meeting, placed before defence minister Rajnath Singh demands for an MSP guarantee law, stopping insult of Mahatma Gandhi, giving Delhi government’s GST share of ₹12,000 crore which is due and a discussion on Pegasus,” AAP leader Sanjay Singh tweeted.
To this, Joshi said: “There is no need for a separate discussion (on Pegasus) now, but opposition leaders are free to raise any issue while speaking on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address.”
Joshi and Singh, two leaders who appear to enjoy goodwill across political parties, also appealed to Opposition leaders to make the session successful. “Let’s sit together and decide the key issues for discussion in the session,” Singh was quoted as saying by a person who attended the meeting.
Joshi said that a debate on the President’s speech and on the Union Budget will be allotted 12 hours each in the Lok Sabha. The government will not bring any legislative business in the first half of the Budget session, which is already packed with the presentation of the Budget and two marathon debates, he added.
In the Rajya Sabha, 23 hours would be allotted for debating the President’s speech and the Union Budget, Joshi said.
At the third all-party meeting, chaired by Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, YSRCP leader V Vijayasai Reddy maintained that “Pegasus is an important issue but the session should not be disrupted over it”.
Taking a cue from the virtual mode of the meeting, TMC MP Derek O’Brien said: “It’s a good start but you should also tell the committees to hold virtual sessions”.
While Biju Janata Dal leader Prasanna Acharya urged all parties to refrain from disrupting Zero Hour and Question Hour, chairman Naidu pointed out that “the Budget session provides guidance to help the national economy recover from the impact of Covid pandemic over the last two years which continues with the third wave”.
“I earnestly appeal to all the leaders to enable a productive Budget session by urging members of respective parties so as to make meaningful contributions for economic recovery and all round development at this hour of challenge,” Naidu said.
In the 2021 monsoon session, the Congress-led Opposition demanded clarifications from Modi on Pegasus and nearly washed out the session through massive protests and disruption. Union IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had also given a suo motu statement in both Houses and said there is ‘no substance’ in previous media reports regarding the use of Pegasus. He assured Parliament that illegal spying is impossible in the country.
On Sunday, Chowdhury wrote to Birla, seeking privilege motion against Vaishnaw for “deliberately misleading the House on the Pegasus issue”.
The Budget session beginning Monday is likely to witness protests over the issue again.