Over 120 concerned citizens on Wednesday urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to allow Trinamul Congress MP Mahua Moitra to complete her term “in public interest” despite the ethics committee recommending her expulsion on a complaint that she accepted favours from a businessman to ask questions against the Adani group in Parliament.
The ethics committee of the Lok Sabha had last week adopted a report recommending her expulsion in the “cash for query” case by a majority vote with all five members of the Opposition protesting and submitting dissent notes, billing the probe incomplete and likening the process adopted to a “kangaroo court”.
In a statement, the 123 signatories expressed anguish over the manner in which Moitra “has been treated for raising genuine concerns about a corporate group’s activities that could have far-reaching public interest implications”. They are of the view that there is more to this entire chapter than an inter-corporate conflict of interest.
In particular, the signatories have flagged the changes made by the Narendra Modi government to the Companies Act to facilitate funding of political parties by private companies.
“At one time, the Companies Act prohibited corporate donations to political parties. As electoral corruption and profligacy in election expenditure started increasing, successive governments chose to dilute that Act to permit private companies to fund elections,” the signatories said.
“During the last nine years, the present government went far beyond that and opened the floodgates to corporate donations, including donations from foreign sources. As if that was not enough, it introduced a highly regressive system of Electoral Bonds that have permitted political parties to receive donations from anonymous individuals and corporate bodies, which in turn deprived the citizens of their ‘right to know’ under Article 19 of the Constitution. This has made it easy for private companies to fund the political parties and, in turn, influence them to grant them quid pro quos in terms of dilution of environmental and other laws and compromising institutions to suit their interests,” they added.
Referring to the charges levelled against Moitra of taking favours from businessman Darshan Hiranandani to ask questions against the Adani group, the signatories noted that the “manner in which the political executive has responded to questions on instances of irregularities in corporate governance highlights the strong nexus that exists between the political executive and big businesses and its deleterious implications for the public interest”.
Stating that Moitra drew attention to these facts with her interventions in the Lok Sabha, they said her likely expulsion would create a void in continuing this discourse.
Moreover, natural justice requires that a person facing an accusation be given adequate opportunity to have access to all evidence put forward in support of such an accusation and cross-examine witnesses. Even in the eventuality of Moitra being found guilty of what she is accused of after due process, the punishment should be proportionate, the signatories said.
In the report of the ethics committee, the money trail has not been established with the members saying they do not have the wherewithal to do so. As for the charge that she shared her Lok Sabha portal login with Hiranandani to pose Parliament questions, several MPs inside and outside the committee have pointed out that there are no rules barring sharing access to the portal launched in 2019.
The signatories to the statement include several retired civil servants, lawyers, academics and activists.