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Tharoor to lead IT Parliamentary Standing Committee for second year in a row

Photo of Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor. Source: Gopzonline/<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shashi_tharoor.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has been reconstituted with the same members and Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor will continue as its chairperson, according to a Lok Sabha bulletin released on Tuesday. The BJP-dominated committee 16 members are from BJP — has one vacancy. 

Parliamentary Standing Committees have a one-year tenure after which they are reconstituted. The Tharoor-led committee was first constituted on September 13, 2019 and was thus effectively disbanded on September 13, 2020 after it last met on September 2. In its one year, the committee has discussed a number of contentious issues that have involved summoning Facebook’s India head and questioning the Department of Telecommunications over the year-long internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir.

Departmentally related standing committees usually have 31 members: 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha. The committee currently has 30 since once of the Rajya Sabha MPs, Beni Prasad Verma (Samajwadi party), died on March 27. It is not clear if and when this vacancy will be filled.

Current Composition
16 BJP, 4 Congress, 2 Trinamool Congress, 1 each from Shiv Sena, CPI(M), Samajwadi Party, TRS, TDP, Lok Janshakti Party, DMK and independent MPs

Lok Sabha:

  1. Shashi Tharoor (Congress) — Chairperson
  2. Karti P. Chidambaram (Congress)
  3. Mahua Moitra (Trinamool Congress)
  4. Locket Chatterjee (BJP)
  5. Sunny Deol (BJP)
  6. Nishikant Dubey (BJP)
  7. Raksha Nikhil Khadse (BJP)
  8. Sukanta Majumdar (BJP)
  9. Nisith Pramanik (BJP)
  10. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (BJP)
  11. Sanjay Seth (BJP)
  12. S. Tejasvi Surya (BJP)
  13. Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma (BJP)
  14. Dhairyasheel Sambhajirao Mane (Shiv Sena)
  15. R. Natarajan (CPI (M))
  16. Santosh Pandey (Samajwadi Party)
  17. Gaddam Ranjith Reddy (Telangana Ranjith Reddy)
  18. Jayadev Galla (TDP)
  19. Chandan Singh (Lok Jan Sharti Party)
  20. Sumathy (A) Thamizhachi Thangapandian (DMK)

Rajya Sabha:

  1. Anil Agrawal (BJP)
  2. Subhash Chandra (BJP)
  3. Y.S. Chowdary (BJP)
  4. Suresh Gopi (BJP)
  5. Syed Zafar Islam (BJP)
  6. Nabam Rebia (BJP)
  7. Shaktisinh Gohil (Congress)
  8. Syed Nasir Hussain (Congress)
  9. Mohammed Nadimul Haque (TMC)
  10. Narendra Jadhav (Independent)

On October 15, 2020, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla replaced Lok Sabha MP M.V.V. Satyanarayana (YSRCP) with Lok Sabha MP Jayadev Galla (TDP).

During its first year, four of its original MPs — Lok Sabha MPs Vijay Kumar Dubey (BJP) and Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser (Lok Jan Shakti Party), and Rajya Sabha MPs D. Kupendra Reddy (Janata Dal (Secular)) and Ronald Sapa Tlau (Congress) — were replaced by Lok Sabha MP Chandan Singh (Lok Jan Shakti Party) and Rajya Sabha MPs Sakhtisinh Gohil (Congress) and Syed Zafar Islam (BJP).

Committee has not shied away from taking on tougher issues

The IT committee found itself mired in conflict after Tharoor decided to summon Facebook’s India head Ajit Mohan after revelations from the Wall Street Journal that the platform had not taken down content by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party, despite it violating the company policies. It had led to a war of tweets and competing statements in the media.

BJP member Nishikant Dubey had accused Tharoor of violating Parliamentary procedure and asked Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to “persuade Dr. Tharoor to proceed leave”. He was supported by fellow BJP member Locket Chatterjee who said that Tharoor should have consulted with the rest of the committee members in language that prompted Tharoor to school her on civility. Another BJP member Tejasvi Surya had instead chosen to tweet about Facebook’s alleged censorship of “nationalist, pro-India or pro-Hindu voices”.

Eventually, Mohan appeared before the committee and as per Tharoor’s tweet, the last meeting lasted three-and-a-half hours. MediaNama’s founder and editor Nikhil Pahwa and journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta had also deposed before the committee.

The Committee had also taken up the issue of internet shutdowns, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, where 4G internet was restored in only two districts after more than a year of being cut off. This also led to an argument during the committee meeting with Tharoor and TMC MP Mahua Moitra arguing about how internet is important to exercise free speech and to conduct business, and Dubey arguing that 2G services should be enough since he didn’t face any problems when he visited the new union territory in July.

In another meeting, the committee had discussed the ban on Chinese-owned apps. When the meeting took place in July, only 59 apps had been banned. Since then another 166 apps have been banned due to national security reasons. The banned apps also include PUBG, a ban which was proposed during the July meeting as well, albeit for its affect on the youth.

In 2019, the committee had also discussed how Pegasus spyware was installed in a number of Indians’ phones to surveill them and the cyber attack on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

Read more:

***Update (October 20, 2020 3:31 pm): Updated article with inclusion of MP Jayadev Galla.

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