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regular-article-logo Saturday, 13 April 2024

Smoke signals Lok Sabha breach: Protesters land on House floor, questions on security protocol

The youths overpowered in the Lok Sabha were identified as Sagar Sharma, from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, and D. Manoranjan, from Mysore in Karnataka

J.P. Yadav New Delhi Published 14.12.23, 05:15 AM
Picture shared on multiple handles on X on Wednesday shows yellow smoke in the Lok Sabha. Rahul Gandhi (second from right) is among several MPs looking in the direction of the visitors’ gallery.

Picture shared on multiple handles on X on Wednesday shows yellow smoke in the Lok Sabha. Rahul Gandhi (second from right) is among several MPs looking in the direction of the visitors’ gallery. Sourced by the Telegraph.

Two youths who called themselves “deshbhakt” jumped into the Lok Sabha chamber from the visitors’ gallery while proceedings were on, shouted slogans, and released yellow smoke from canisters before they were overpowered by MPs and staff on Wednesday afternoon, in a big security breach in the new Parliament building inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Outside, two other youths sprayed colour and chanted the slogans: “Tanasahi nahi chalegi (Down with dictatorship)”, “Jai Bhim” and “Bharat mata ki jai”.

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The youths overpowered in the Lok Sabha were identified as Sagar Sharma, from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, and D. Manoranjan, from Mysore in Karnataka. Sharma had a visitors’ gallery pass issued by Mysore’s BJP MP Pratap Simha, who could not be reached for comment.

The two outside were Amol Shinde from Latur in Maharashtra and Neelam Azad from Haryana.

As she was being led away by police, Neelam said: “We are common citizens. Atrocity is inflicted on us by this government of India. When we try to talk about our rights, we are lathicharged and put in jails. We are jobless. I’m a student and not linked to any organisation.”

The breach coincided with the anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack and raised the question whether standard operating procedures to ensure fool-proof security in the new Parliament building were ignored in the rush to fulfill the wish of the political masters to move into it.

The new Parliament building was inaugurated on May 28 by Modi even before it was ready to hold proceedings. Months later, a four-day special session was convened in it starting September 19, the date coinciding with Ganesh Chaturthi.

As Opposition MPs questioned the “serious breach in security” in what should be the country’s most secure building, Speaker Om Birla asked them to take care in voicing their concern as the “country was watching”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, who is in charge of security in the country, were not in Parliament and till Wednesday night had not issued any statement on the security breach that brought back memories of the 2001 terror attack on Parliament in which nine people lost their lives. Modi had in the morning paid tribute to them.

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said: “The security breach that took place in Parliament today is a very serious matter. We demand that the home minister should come to both the Houses and give a statement on this.”

An important security protocol is said to have been bypassed in the new Parliament building.

In the old building, security personnel in plainclothes would sit in the front row in the visitors’ gallery. “If anyone tries to make any sort of suspicious movement, the alert security people immediately intervene. This protocol was not being followed in the new building,” one Parliament staff said, pointing it out as a big failure. “Had the security been deployed inside the gallery, the youths wouldn’t have succeeded in jumping,” he added.

Another official said the height of the gallery railing was not adequate and alleged this was the result of the rush to complete the new building.

The two youths jumped into the Lok Sabha chamber around 1pm during Zero Hour when BJP MP Khagen Murmu was pressing for an airport in Malda. While the first youth was seen jumping over the benches, the second was initially dangling from the gallery before he too managed to jump in.

Chanting “Tanasahi nahi chalegi”, they tried to run towards the Speaker’s Chair. As some MPs and House watch and ward staff tried to overpower them, they pulled out canisters hidden inside their shoes and sprayed a yellow gas.

All four youths have been arrested. A preliminary investigation has not found them to be linked to any organisation.

“We didn’t have any other way to make our voice heard,” Neelam said as the police led her away.

RLP MP from Rajasthan Hanuman Beniwal took the lead in overpowering the first youth, while the second youth was caught by Congress MP from Punjab Gurjeet Singh Aujla. Other MPs and staff joined them. Rahul Gandhi was in the House.

Many MPs were seen running out, fearing the gas could be poisonous. BJP’s Rajendra Agarwal, who was in the Chair, adjourned the proceedings till 2pm as a section of the chamber was filled with the yellow smoke.

The MPs present said the youths said they were “deshbhakt” (patriots) and questioned why they were being arrested.

When the House convened at 2pm, Speaker Birla sought to play down the security breach, saying the youths had released “sadharan and sansani failani wali dhuan” (normal smoke, meant to create panic), and told the MPs that there was nothing to worry.

“The two intruders have been arrested and their belongings have been seized. Two others outside also have been nabbed…. The entire matter is being investigated thoroughly by the Lok Sabha and the Delhi police have also been informed,” Birla said.

However, several MPs later pointed out that the canisters could have contained poisonous gas and it was a serious security breach that they could be smuggled in.

Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury said adequate measures for the security of the new Parliament building had not been taken. He stressed the lack of adequate watch and ward staff in the new building in comparison to the old building.

“Precaution is needed. We didn’t take care of it. Our MPs nabbed the intruders as very few unarmed security staff were seen. Why are they not visible in the new building? Where are they?” Adhir asked as Birla urged him not to get into this debate.

Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said there are too many visitors, an issue Parliament security staff have been raising for some time now. “We should be more cautious. At the gates we see a big crowd of visitors every day. It becomes very difficult for us MPs to come inside as they (visitors) are busy taking selfies,” Sudip said.

In the past couple of months, the entry of journalists covering Parliament has been curtailed, continuing with the practice introduced during the Covid pandemic, but visitors have a free run.

Security staff said visitors have increased manifold since the opening of the new building, given the hype around it by the ruling party members.

“We have to manage long queues each day. Many times, staff of ministers and MPs try to force us to hurry with the security checks, dropping names of big leaders,” one security staff at the gate said. “We are facing an acute shortage of staff. There have been no recruitments since 2011,” one watch-and-ward staff inside the building said.

Delhi police are deployed at the entry gates of the Parliament House while inside the building, unarmed watch-and-ward staff are stationed at the entry of the chambers.

“The sheer failure of the Centre in ensuring security in Parliament makes us question the safety measures in Parliament. The BJP-led central government must answer why the BJP MP provided the visitor’s pass to the accused and will he be expelled from Parliament for breaching national security?” Trinamul MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, who was present in the House at the time, asked.

The Congress MPs present in the House, however, refrained from holding the BJP MP guilty. “Request for passes are regularly made by MPs. The pass is issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat after verifying everything and the visitors are frisked…. Let's not blame the MP for the pass,” Congress MP Karti Chidambaram said.

The Congress demanded adjournment of proceedings till the home minister makes a statement.

Leader of the House Piyush Goyal accused the Congress of trying to politicise the issue.

Later, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh posted: “The Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha kept accusing INDIA parties of ‘politicising’ the shocking and appalling breach of security WITHIN the Lok Sabha today. He had no answers to serious questions being raised on how such a breach could take place in a building heralded by the PM for its technological marvels, and how the intruders had come as visitors thanks to a high-profile sitting BJP MP from Karnataka.”

Visitor passes

Issue of visitor passes was suspended on Wednesday till further notice, and body scanners will be installed. Separate entrances will be allotted to MPs and their staff and also the press. Visitors, when allowed back, will enter from a separate designated gate. Further, the visitors’ gallery will be encased in glass.

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