Narada referred to LS ethics committee

The contents of the Narada sting have been referred to the Lok Sabha ethics committee, adding gravity to an issue Trinamul has been dismissive about and bringing to life a question whether the panel can take up an episode that preceded the current House.

By J.P. Yadav
  • Published 17.03.16

New Delhi, March 16: The contents of the Narada sting have been referred to the Lok Sabha ethics committee, adding gravity to an issue Trinamul has been dismissive about and bringing to life a question whether the panel can take up an episode that preceded the current House.

The referral - and a contrast in the Rajya Sabha - also threw up clues to the differences in approach from party to party, depending on the personalities involved and state-specific tactics.

Five Trinamul Lok Sabha MPs and one Rajya Sabha MP are linked to the Narada controversy in which several politicians are shown accepting money from the agent of a fictitious company.

Ignoring Trinamul protests, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan referred the issue to the ethics committee of the lower House today for "examination, investigation and report".

In the Rajya Sabha, deputy chairman P.J. Kurien rejected the plea of CPM's Sitaram Yechury to refer the matter to its ethics committee, citing lack of unanimity. "The House is divided. One member is saying the video is doctored. I cannot give any direction. You give proper notice," Kurien said, setting aside Yechury's plea.

The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have separate ethics committees that have the power to recommend expulsion of members found guilty. In 2005, 10 MPs from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha were expelled after allegations that money was taken for asking questions.

Today, the Lok Sabha Speaker said: "Certain acts of alleged unethical conduct on the part of some members of the House have been reported.... These allegations are very serious in nature and seek to impact upon the very credibility of parliamentarians and Parliament as an institution and, therefore, need to be examined.

"Keeping in view the extreme gravity of the matter, I have in exercise of my powers under the provisions of Rule 233B of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha decided to refer the matter to the committee on ethics for examination, investigation and report."

Saugata Roy, one of the MPs allegedly caught taking money on camera, said the decision was "unilateral". "There was no formal motion. You unilaterally took the decision. Since this concerns some of us, I raise my strong protest," he said.

The Speaker said there was a formal motion. "It is there.... I will show you."

Roy said: "I strongly protest referring the matter to the ethics committee. This matter relates to something which is dated April 2014."

The current House is the 16th Lok Sabha that came into being from June 1, 2014. Till May 31, 2014, the mandate of the 15th Lok Sabha was in place although the general election results for the next House were declared 15 days earlier. All five Trinamul MPs caught in the controversy were members of the 15th Lok Sabha, too.

The question raised by Roy was whether the 16th Lok Sabha can look into an event that took place before it came into being.

Narada News, the portal that conducted the sting, has said the operation started before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is not clear whether it spilled over into the term of the current Lok Sabha.

The Speaker said the issue would be clear in the report of the ethics committee. "Let the report come," Mahajan said.

Former Lok Sabha secretary-general Subhash Kashyap said it was very much in the power of the current Lok Sabha to order a probe and recommend action if the members were found guilty.

"Parliament is a continuing thing. If an offence has been committed, late inquiry is no ground to escape punishment. The present House has the power to decide," Kashyap said.

But former additional solicitor-general L. Nageshwara Rao referred to a 2010 Supreme Court judgment on charges of misconduct against Congress leader Amarinder Singh during the tenure of the previous Punjab Assembly. Amarinder was let off in the case.

"In that case, the court ruled that 'legislative business doesn't survive the dissolution of the House'. The court said that the exception only applies in cases of pending legislation. So there is a point in the argument that the MPs cannot be punished for acts of commission committed as members of the previous Lok Sabha since that House stands dissolved," Rao said.

But the matter in dispute is not legislative business concerning the House but corruption charges outside Parliament.

The 15-member Lok Sabha ethics committee is headed by BJP veteran L.K. Advani. The panel has eight members from the BJP, including Advani, and one each from the Congress, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, BJD, TDP and the AIADMK. One slot is vacant.

Roy said: "I have full respect for the ethics committee headed by Shri L.K. Advani."

Barring Trinamul, there was no objection from any party in the Lok Sabha.

However, a different picture emerged in the Rajya Sabha, where the government lacks majority. Leader of the House Arun Jaitley sat quietly during zero hour today when the CPM demanded an inquiry. BJP member Chandan Mitra rose to ask the Chair to order a probe but did not do so forcefully.

Yechury alleged "match-fixing" between Trinamul and the BJP. He claimed that the BJP was soft towards the Trinamul for ensuring support in passing legislation in the upper House.

The Congress members in the upper House did not join the CPM. Sources said the Congress had probably left it to its Bengal leaders to address state-specific issues in Parliament. In the Lok Sabha, state Congress chief Adhir Chowdury had raised the issue. In the Rajya Sabha, Pradip Bhattacharya, the sole Congress MP in the upper House, could not be seen when the issue came up.