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New Delhi: Both houses of parliament witnessed stormy scenes on Wednesday as a united Opposition continued to press its demand for a standalone debate on the Pegasus snooping row.
While the Centre refused to relent, six Trinamool Congress MPs were suspended in the Rajya Sabha as they entered the well of the upper house and displayed placards, protesting the Pegasus issue. The notice of their suspension stated that their conduct was “grossly disorderly in the House”.
The six MPs – Dola Sen, Nadimul Haque, Abir Ranjan Biswas, Shanta Chhetri, Arpita Ghosh, Mausam Noor – were therefore “directed to withdraw immediately from the council under rule 255 by the chairman”. The notice also stated that “accordingly, these members shall absent themselves during the remainder of the day’s meeting”.
With the Centre not relenting in the face of the opposition’s demand for a discussion on the issue in the presence of the prime minister or the home minister, and for an independent judicial probe into allegations that Pegasus was used to spy on journalists, Opposition leaders and critics of the government, a sense of desperation has been creeping in.
The opposition is also peeved that footage of protests within both houses is not being shown by the channels that are run with public money. TMC MP Derek O’Brien also tweeted that the protests of the opposition in Rajya Sabha were being blacked out.
RAJYA SABHA TV CENSORSHIP.
United Opposition protests being blacked out.
— Derek O’Brien | ডেরেক ও’ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) August 4, 2021
The ppposition parties are also vexed that their repeated attempts to have a discussion on the Pegasus issue and the three farm laws have not been accepted.
Demands of the opposition parties
Before the Rajya Sabha convened Wednesday morning, opposition MPs had a meeting in the chamber of the leader of the opposition, Mallikarjun Kharge, where it was agreed that they would press for only a discussion on the Pegasus issue with a reply by Union home minister Amit Shah, and that they would also demand repeal of the three farm laws.
Congress chief whip in the Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh said the opposition was united in its demands, “in spite of the Modi government’s efforts to break the unity”. He reiterated, “We demand: first, a discussion on the Pegasus scandal and its impact on national security with a reply by the home minister. Two, a repeal of the three farm laws with a discussion on farmers’ concerns.”
Meanwhile, TMC MP O’Brien questioned the absence of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah at a time when the opposition was raising specific demands in parliament. He also sought a statement on the rape of a minor in Delhi. “Where is the prime minister? Where is the home minister? They are not attending parliament. The home minister should come and tell us why the minor was raped in the national capital. I will shave my head if the home minister comes and replies,” O’Brien said.
Meanwhile, the Opposition has also released a statement, signed by leaders of 14 political parties, saying that they stand firm on their demand for a probe on the Pegasus and farmers’ issues.
When the Rajya Sabha assembled at 11 am, new member Jawhar Sircar took his oath and then the official documents were laid on the table of the house. Thereafter, Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu stated that he was not admitting the notices given under Rule 267 – which call for setting aside the other business of the day – by Ramgopal Yadav and Vishambhar Prasad Nishad of the Samajwadi Party and V. Sivadasan of the CPI(M), over the three farm laws. However, he said, a discussion on the issue was being allowed under a different rule.
Naidu also rejected notices under Rule 267 moved by six MPs – Kharge and K.C. Venugopal of Congress, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy of TMC, Elamaram Kareem of CPI(M), and V. Sivadasan and Binoy Viswam of the CPI – for a discussion on the Pegasus issue.
While the opposition has been demanding a discussion on the Pegasus revelations first, Naidu said: “Now there is an agreement about farmers’ agitation, and also about price rise and the economic situation. The government has also expressed willingness to discuss [these issues]. Let us discuss the farmers’ issues. Let us discuss the economic situation, price rise and other issues.”
Opposition members protest decision
Opposition members protested this move and several MPs from the TMC and other parties rushed into the well of the house, holding aloft placards. They also raised slogans against the government. Following this, Naidu took exception to the manner of protest and threatened to invoke Rule 255. Without naming anyone, he said, “Those disobeying the chair and raising placards shall leave the House under rule 255.” The names of the six suspended MPs were announced by the Rajya Sabha secretariat.
Later in the day, the house passed the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to encourage smaller airports to expand air connectivity to relatively remote and far-flung areas, after a brief discussion amid protests and sloganeering by the opposition. It was then adjourned for the day as the protests continued.
Amid opposition protests, Bills passed in the Lok Sabha
In the Lok Sabha, speaker Om Birla made obituary references for eight former members who passed away recently. As the demand of the opposition leaders for a discussion on Pegasus was not taken up, protests erupted and members raised slogans against the government.
Despite the protest, the house took up for consideration and passed the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021 that was moved by environment minister Bhupender Yadav. Later, the house was adjourned twice due to the loud protests.
Finally, when it met again at 3:30 pm, Rajendra Agrawal, who was in the chair, took up the Coconut Development Board (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was moved by agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
Despite continued protests from opposition MPs, Tomar moved the Bill claiming it would benefit coconut farmers in different states. Without any debate, the Bill was passed even as the opposition objected to the haste shown in the matter. This Bill had earlier been passed by the Rajya Sabha.
With opposition MPs still protesting over Pegasus and other issues, the House was adjourned for the day till 11 am on Thursday.