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Pegasus: BJP members walk out of meeting of parliamentary panel

The move was to protest against Shashi Tharoor’s decision to take up the spyware snooping controversy a day later, betraying the ruling party’s jitters on the issue
Shashi Tharoor

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 28.07.21, 01:15 AM

BJP members on Tuesday walked out of a meeting of the parliamentary panel on information technology, protesting against its chairman Shashi Tharoor’s decision to take up the Pegasus snooping controversy a day later, betraying the ruling party’s jitters on the issue.

The parliamentary standing committee on information technology, headed by former Union minister and Congress leader Tharoor, is scheduled to discuss “Citizens’ data security and privacy” on Wednesday and the move by BJP members on Tuesday was to scuttle the effort to take up the Pegasus spyware row.

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On Tuesday, the Tharoor-headed panel was meeting on a different agenda, to hear the views of individuals and organisations on the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification, in the context of the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

The BJP members walked out of the meeting on the Parliament premises, said they had boycotted it and headed to meet Speaker Om Birla.

“The agenda of (Wednesday’s) meeting was not shared with us. Also it’s not proper for the committee to hold a meeting when Parliament is in session,” BJP MP Nishikant Dubey told reporters.

“Now we are going to meet the Speaker to lodge our protest,” Dubey added, accusing Tharoor of running a “personal agenda”.

The BJP has a majority in the 32-member panel. Tharoor had earlier said the Pegasus snooping row would be taken up for discussion as it was the “most important issue for most members”.

The parliamentary panel has the powers to summon government officials concerned and question them. The BJP members seemed to be wary of this.

“As per rules confidentiality should be maintained. Agenda became public before the meeting. Agenda should be fixed with the consent of members,” said Zafar Islam, another BJP MP on the panel.

The agenda of meeting, however, was declared in a communiqué by the Lok Sabha secretariat. It’s not the agenda but what’s discussed inside the meeting that has to be confidential, according to the rules.

The protest highlighted the BJP’s unease over any discussion on the Pegasus scandal.

The government has been evading the issue since an international media consortium reported that over 300 verified phone numbers, including those of Indian journalists, a former election commissioner, activists, Opposition leaders, ministers, businessmen and ordinary citizens, could have been subjected to surveillance using the Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

Let alone order a probe, as the Opposition has demanded, the government has not even discussed the issue in Parliament so far.



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