Govt moves to disallow MP's question on Pegasus in Parliament
CPI MP Binoy Viswam says the government is misusing Rajya Sabha rules and taking an alien stand on truth
The Centre sought to disallow in the Rajya Sabha, a question seeking details on whether the government entered into a contract with Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group, at the centre of a global controversy over the misuse of its Pegasus spyware to hack phones of journalists, activists and politicians, stating that “the ongoing issue of Pegasus” is subjudice after “several PILs have been filed in the Supreme Court,” according to officials aware of the development and documents reviewed by HT.
The Centre wrote to the Rajya Sabha secretariat earlier this week seeking that a “Provisionally Admitted Question”(PAQ) asked by CPI MP Binoy Viswam scheduled to be answered on August 12 in the upper house, not be allowed.
“I have been informed informally that my question was disallowed but I am yet to get a formal response... the Government is misusing Rajya Sabha rules and taking an alien stand on truth. They must face questions on the issue of the Pegasus,” said Viswam.
In his “Provisionally Admitted Question”(PAQ), reviewed by HT, with the subject ‘Government of India MoU with Foreign Companies,’ Viswam asked: “Will the Minister of External Affairs be pleased to state (a) the number of MoUs Government has entered into with foreign companies, the details sector-wise; (b) whether any of these MoU’s with foreign companies has been in order to curb terror activities through cyber security, the details of the same; and (c) whether Government has entered into a MoU with NSO Group in order to curb terror activities through cyber security across the nation, if so, provide details thereof?”
In the letter sent to the Rajya Sabha secretariat requesting that the question not be allowed, the Centre said: “It would be noted that Part (a) to (c) of PAQ seeks to know about the ongoing issue of Pegasus owned by NSO Group. On this issue, several PILs have been filed in the Supreme Court, making this issue subjudice.”
It added: “According to Rule 47 (xix) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Council of States (Rajya Sabha), dealing with admissibility of questions, an admitted question “shall not ask for information on matter which is under adjudication by a court of law having jurisdiction in any part of India”.
According to the Rajya Sabha website, the admissibility of notice given by Members in respect of questions in Rajya Sabha is governed by Rules 47-50 of Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Council of States (Rajya Sabha). As per Rule 47 sub section ( xix) the following are the conditions of admissibility of a question: “It shall not ask for information on a matter which is under adjudication by a court of law having jurisdiction in any part of India.”
“It is mentioned in rule 47, sub rule 2 that matters that are subjudice are not admitted in the house,” said RS secretariat media advisor to the chairman AA Rao.
The Pegasus row erupted on July 18 after an international investigative consortium reported that the phones of Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were among the 50,000 numbers from around the world that were potentially targeted by the Israeli company NSO Group’s phone hacking software. NSO says its software is sold only to government customers. The Indian government has neither confirmed nor denied that it used Pegasus and has ruled out any illegal surveillance.
PDT Acharya, a former Lok Sabha general secretary said: “There have been occasions when the speaker decided that if the matter is of great public interest, even if it is subjudice, the House can discuss it... there is no external pressure on the house. The house has imposed the restriction on itself and this position has changed over a period of time... ‘subjudice’ as such has lost much of its rigour. The house has been as such liberal and they look at the importance and public interest.” “You cannot mechanically apply the rule to all subjudice matter. If public interest demands there should be discussion in the house.”
“Questions submitted by MPs go through two levels of scrutiny to check that they comply with the rules of Parliament. First, the parliament secretariat makes sure that the questions that MPs are raising conform with the parliamentary guidelines. The ministry answering the question also checks the adherence to rules for the questions...,” said Chakshu Roy, head of Outreach, PRS Legislative Research. “In the budget session, out of the 330,00 questions that MPs submitted, approximately 2,000, that is about 6%, were disallowed.”