NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla is learnt to have assured IT panel chairman Shashi Tharoor that he will grant him an audience to voice his concerns over what transpired at the panel meeting earlier this week and will also look into the complaints himself.
Separately, Birla is also learnt to have said he will meet all members of the House panel to attempt to resolve concerns raised by the chairman.
Earlier this week, a discussion on citizens’ data privacy and security was derailed when 10 BJP MPs showed up but refused to mark their presence in the attendance register, resulting in lack of quorum. Additionally, three Union secretaries excused themselves from appearing before the panel an hour before the meeting and without, as per procedure, seeking Tharoor’s consent first.
Failure to appear before a parliamentary committee when summoned constitutes contempt of the House, IT panel chairman Shashi Tharoor said in a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, seeking appropriate action under the rules against the secretaries of Home, Information Technology, and Communications, for failing to appear before the House Panel.
In his letter to Birla, Tharoor also said he did not excuse the witnesses from attending the proceedings and that the last-minute refusal was both “unprecedented” and clearly constituted a “breach of parliamentary privilege and contempt of the House.”
Parliamentary practice and procedures say committees can not only direct officials from ministries, departments, public undertakings or organisations to appear before them, but also witnesses who are in jail.
This precedent dates back to February 1966, when a parliamentary committee, on the ‘Demand for Punjabi Suba’, decided to hear a detenu held under orders of the Punjab Government. Home Ministry and Punjab Government were asked to ensure the detenu’s appearance before the Committee. The detenu who was then in the Central Jail, Delhi, was brought to Parliament House on the appointed date and time under police escort and was conducted to the waiting room for witnesses. “After his evidence before the Committee, he was conducted to the main gate by the Watch and Ward Officer and handed over to the waiting police escort for being taken back to jail,” the ‘Practice and Procedure of Parliament’, a book by Kaul and Sakhder says.