Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

New Delhi: Trinamool Congress lawmaker Mahua Moitra, a first term MP, is all set to be disqualified if the report of the Ethics Committee is adopted on Friday and if the government moves a motion for her expulsion. The Opposition leaders, including Moitra, however, will get a chance to debate on the report before any motion is moved, Lok Sabha officials said.

TMC MP Mahua Moitra on the first day of the winter session of Parliament in New Delhi on December 4. (PTI)

A number of Opposition leaders including Congress’ floor leader Adhir Chowdhury and Trinamool Congress have demanded a debate on the report.

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The Lok Sabha secretariat has listed the submission of the report by panel chairman Vinod Kumar Sonkar and another first time MP, Aparajita Sarangi, in the House. The report will be taken up after 12 noon and the debate might continue for at least half and hour.

The government will also respond to the debate.

The report was earlier listed in the agenda of the Lower House for December 4 but was not tabled. BSP MP Danish Ali might also face punitive action as per the recommendation of the report.

Various opposition members have insisted that there should be a discussion on the recommendations before a decision is taken on Moitra. Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury wrote a letter to the Speaker against the ethics panel recommending Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra’s expulsion over the “cash-for-query” charge, saying that it is “an extremely serious punishment and has very wide ramifications”.

In his four-page letter to Birla, Chowdhury — usually a critic of the TMC— said that there is “no clear definition of unethical conduct” and a “code of conduct” is yet to be formulated for Lok Sabha MPs. He added that before Moitra’s case, the Lok Sabha’s ethics committee dealt with only a “minuscule” number of complaints and the punitive actions recommended were not as severe.

“If the report is tabled, we would insist on a full-fledged discussion as the draft was adopted in two-and-a-half minutes,” BSP MP Danish Ali told reporters on Thursday.

The Ethics Committee headed by Vinod Kumar Sonkar, at a meeting on November 9, adopted its report recommending Moitra’s expulsion from Lok Sabha over the “cash-for-query” allegation.

On November 9, the committee adopted the report recommending the TMC lawmaker’s expulsion, by a margin of 6-4, for sharing her login credentials and password with an unauthorised person, its impact on national security, and finding that it amounted to unethical conduct and contempt of the House. The recommendations of the report also mentioned that Moitra accepted “money — cash and kind, amenities and various other facilities” from businessman Darshan Hiranandani, with whom the password and login details were shared.

It noted that 50 out of the 61 questions asked by Moitra in Parliament sought information “with the intent of protecting or perpetuating business interests” of Hiranandani. Moitra has denied the allegations.

In an all-party meeting before the session started on December 4, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay raised the issue and said, “It’s a normal practice that Parliamentary Committees submit their report in Parliament but the Ethics Committee report which is not yet tabled but media has already reported its contents. It is in connection with one of our members. Few MPs are under suspension and we r seeing reports in the media that one member who belongs to our party is going to be expelled shortly. If any MP expelled, a full discussion should be allowed on the floor of the House. The House may take decision after full discussion.”

The ethics committee also asked for an “intense, legal, institutional inquiry” by the Centre in a time-bound manner “In view of highly objectionable, unethical, heinous and criminal conduct of Mahua Moitra.”

In the ethics committee BSP MP Danish Ali and JDU lawmaker Giridhari Yadav protested against the recommendations of the draft report, which was circulated to the 15 members of the panel on Wednesday evening. Chairman Vinod Sonkar called for a vote and the report was adopted by a majority.

The report of the home, IT and external affairs ministries also weighed against Moitra’s efforts to absolve herself from the charges.

In its reply to the panel on October 31, the IT ministry underlined the threats that the country faces from State and non-State cyber actors and said “such leakage of credentials could render the system vulnerable to serious cyber-attacks and potentially disable the system entirely, thereby crippling the functioning of the Parliament of India.”

It also pointed out that draft copy the bills are sent to the member’s portal. “For instance, it is learnt that the J&K Delimitation Bill, 2019 was circulated in advance. This leads to the possibility of leakage of such sensitive material which could be exploited by inimical elements to the detriment of national security. Transfer of login credential to unauthorised elements could provide an opportunity to such elements to access the system leading to several potential hazards.”

The IT ministry said “such elements could plant material into the system that could impact national security by creating false documents or fake narratives”. The panel noted that businessman Darshan Hiranandani, who admitted that Moitra gave him login credentials to directly post questions in the Lok Sabha portal, is an Indian national but has residency rights in UAE. “Moreover, he has close relatives who are foreign nationals. This creates a serious risk of leakage of sensitive material to foreign agencies,” the IT ministry told the ethics committee.

The Vinod Sonkar-led panel concluded that while the Trinamool lawmaker visited UAE on four occasions between January 1, 2019 and September 30, 2023, “her login credentials, i.e., Members Portal had been operated from Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 47 occasions.” The committee report said the member’s portal was accessed from the same IP address on all 47 occasions.

The panel shared the security concerns of the home and IT ministry over transfer of login credentials to unauthorised elements and also concluded that Hiranandani’s affidavit on October 20 was genuine.

The Ethics Committee also pointed out that Sections 66 and 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 prescribes punishment for sharing passwords and other sensitive personal data or information.

The committee found out that 50 out of 61 questions of Moitra in Parliament “shockingly” sought information, with the intent of protecting or perpetuating business interests of Shri Darshan Hiranandani and his Company.

The panel charged Moitra of compromising national security by “irrepressible and reckless actions” and said the extent of it “could only be pragmatically quantified by undertaking a structured institutional by the Government of India.”

The Trinamool lawmaker, who is known her strongly-worded speeches, has received gifts from Hiranandani including a Hermes scarf and a Bobi Brown lipstick; the businessman also provided her cars in Dubai and Mumbai and gave the layout drawing when she renovated her official Telegraph Lane bungalow.

The panel concluded that it has been established that Moitra accepted “illegal gratification” from Darshan Hiranandani.

The ethics panel met on October 26 and November 2 after Lok Sabha Speaker received the complaint from BJP lawmaker Nishikant Dubey. Moitra, Dubey and her former friend Jai Anant Dehadrai had deposed before the panel.

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