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Amidst Pegasus controversy, no-confidence motion moved to remove Shashi Tharoor as IT committee chairman

The motion comes after Tharoor expressed his intentions to raise the Pegasus issue in committee meetings which have been reportedly disrupted by BJP MPs on two separate occasions.  

A no-confidence motion has been moved to remove Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor from the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology by BJP Lok Sabha MP Dr.Nishikant Dubey and 17 other committee members, MediaNama has confirmed.

MediaNama has reached out to Shashi Tharoor for comment and will update the story as and when he responds.

Why does this matter? The central government is under tremendous pressure to begin an investigation into the use (or potential use) of the Pegasus spyware on opposition leaders, activists, journalists, and others. The IT Committee chairman Shashi Tharoor has, on multiple occasions, said that his committee will investigate the government’s alleged use of the spyware. Earlier today, a committee meeting was to be held to discuss ‘citizen’s rights and privacy’ with representatives from MeitY, MHA, and MoC presenting evidence; but this was cancelled due to a lack of quorum.

Dubey’s reasons for the motion

Speaking to MediaNama, Dubey said that he had moved the no-confidence motion under Articles 94 and 96 of the Constitution of India which deals with the vacation of office of speakers and deputy speakers in Parliament.

Dubey gave three reasons for moving the motion:

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1) Disclosures to the media: Dubey alleged that Tharoor speaks to the media before any proceedings take place. Referring to direction 55(i) of the Speaker rules, he said that Tharoor always divulges details of the proceedings to the media even though the rules say he shouldn’t.

2) No reports submitted: The committee has not submitted any reports in the last two years apart from demand for grants and action taken notes which are mandatory, Dubey said.

3) No study tours: The committee had not taken any study tours in the last two years which are mandatory, according to the MP from Jharkhand.

Disruption of Parliamentary Committee meetings

Earlier today, the committee’s meeting was cancelled because of a lack of quorum (minimum number of members present to conduct business) in the meeting. Congress Lok Sabha MP Karti P. Chidambaram had tweeted that the BJP members of the committee had refused to sign on the register for the meeting and walked out. He also said that representatives from the three ministries (MeitY, MoC, and MHA) had “given excuses” and not appeared to testify before the committee.

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Sources aware of the proceedings also confirmed to MediaNama that although BJP members had attended the proceedings, they refused to register their presence in the committee attendance register which caused a lack of quorum for the meeting to continue.

Yesterday, five BJP MPs walked out of the IT committee’s meeting that was held to hear views from stakeholders on the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in the context of the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021. According to reports, this was shortly after Union Environment and Labour Minister Bhupender Yadav had called for an “informal” meeting of the BJP members of the IT Parliamentary Panel.

Dubey, who was one of the BJP members that had walked out, reportedly complained that Committee meetings cannot take place during Parliament sessions and that the meeting was not notified in time. Later, during an interview with CNN IBN,  Dubey said, “We didn’t get the agenda. And when Parliament is in session, our work is to run Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. To hold a meeting at such a time is not appropriate. The Chairman is arbitrarily running his own writ.”

Tharoor’s statements on Pegasus as IT Committee chair

Following reports from a consortium of 17 news organisations including The Wire in India, that 300 Indians were targetted (or potentially targetted in some cases) by the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, Tharoor made the following remarks:

  • On July 20, Tharoor told news agency ANI that the Pegasus Project revelations were a matter of serious national security concern and the government needs to give an explanation on it.
  • On July 21, in an interview with The Wire, Tharoor said that he would raise the matter as chair of the IT Committee. Later, he also added that “the best thing would be to appoint a sitting Supreme Court judge to head an independent enquiry” on the matter of the Pegasus exposé.

Other matters taken up by the IT Committee

  • Previously, the Tharoor-led committee has taken up the Pegasus issue when news reports of its use first appeared in October 2019.
  • Before the constitution of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, the Personal Data Protection Bill was being reviewed by the Tharoor-led committee.
  • The committee has also held meetings on the functioning of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the proliferation of misuse of social and online news media, internet shutdowns, and data localisation.

More reading on Pegasus:

Written By

I cover health and education technology for MediaNama. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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