Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.(PTI)
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.(PTI)

IT panel meet on Pegasus put off after BJP MPs refuse to take part

The meeting of the standing committee on information technology led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday to discuss the controversial Pegasus Project had to be called off due a lack of quorum, after Bharatiya Janata Party MPs refused to participate and staged a walk out
By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 29, 2021 01:47 AM IST

The meeting of the standing committee on information technology led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday to discuss the controversial Pegasus Project had to be called off due a lack of quorum, after Bharatiya Janata Party MPs refused to participate and staged a walk out.

“@BJP4India members come to the IT Committee & refuse to sign the attendance register to deny a quorum. Further all the witnesses called from MiEIT & MHA wrote in excuses & didn’t appear as called to testify. It’s very clear that #Pegasus is a no go area for this government,” Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, who is a member of the panel, said.

The committee needs at least nine members to be present in order to function. It has 21 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha, of which nearly half are from the ruling party. BJP leaders walked out of the meeting on Tuesday too. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey said then that participating in the meeting when the House was in session was not correct.

Meanwhile, Dubey on Wednesday, moved a privilege motion seeking removal of Tharoor as the head of the panel. Invoking the rule 222 of “Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha” which says that a “member may, with the consent of the Speaker, raise a question involving a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a Committee,” Dubey said, “It is shocking that opposition here doesn’t want Parliament to function. However, they want the same issues to be discussed in the committee (meetings) which the government is ready to discuss in Parliament.”

HT reached out to Tharoor for a response but did not get one immediately.

The Pegasus row erupted last Sunday before the beginning of the current monsoon session of Parliament after an international investigative consortium reported that many Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were potentially targeted by Israeli company NSO Group’s phone hacking software, Pegasus, with a forensic analysis of 10 of the targets proving they had been hacked or that there had been attempts to do so.

The government has neither confirmed nor denied whether it has purchased the spyware. NSO Group has on multiple occasions said that it offers services only to vetted government clients. The company has disputed the leaked list of numbers as those targeted by its clients.

On July 19, reports revealed that aside from 38 journalists, former Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi, two of his aides, political strategist Prashant Kishor, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and Union minister Prahlad Patel were also allegedly hacked. The list also included 11 members of the friends and family, along with the number of the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Rajan Gogoi of sexual harassment.

Union information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who defended the government in Parliament, was also named as a potential hacking target.

To be sure, as the methodology of the investigation explains, the presence of a number does not indicate the individual’s phone was hacked — just that it was of interest. The government denied any involvement. The opposition, however, has called for a probe into the allegations.

Dubey said that there has been a breach of privilege of the house as the issue to be discussed in the meeting “was already out in newspapers” which is a violation against the “directions” laid for the meetings.

“The Constitution of India, under article 94…. says that we can bring in a privilege motion against him,” he said , adding that there 17 signatories to this motion.

Dubey also appealed the speaker that “until there is no decision on the notice given by him” there should be “no meetings of the said committee.”

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