The Congress' Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Saturday, penned a letter to Speaker Om Birla regarding the Ethics Committee's proceedings against Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra in a "cash-for-query" case. Chowdhury urged a reassessment of the rules and procedures of governing parliamentary committees.
In the four-page letter, Chowdhury highlighted the lack of clear demarcation in the roles assigned to the Privileges Committee and the Ethics Committee, particularly concerning the exercise of penal powers. Furthermore, he pointed out the absence of a precise definition for "unethical conduct," and despite being envisaged under Rule 316B of the Rules of Procedure, a "code of conduct" is yet to be formulated.
Chowdhury emphasized that these issues, along with the committee's procedural aspects, may warrant deeper consideration and the streamlining of processes under the guidance of the speaker. He clarified that the expressed views are his personal opinions, and as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
The report of the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee recommending the expulsion of Moitra in the "cash-for-query" case will be tabled in the lower house on Monday.
According to the agenda papers circulated by the Lok Sabha Secretariat, Ethics Committee Chairperson Vinod Kumar Sonkar will lay on the table of the House the panel's first report.
The committee, at a meeting on November 9, adopted its report recommending Moitra's expulsion from the Lok Sabha over the "cash-for-query" allegation.
What did the letter say?
Chowdhury said in his letter, "I am writing with the primary intention of placing before you my views, which are being made in my personal capacity, on the need for having a relook and appropriately reviewing and recasting the rules and processes that relate to the functioning of parliamentary committees that are primarily concerned with the interests and rights of Members of Lok Sabha viz, Privileges Committee, Ethics Committee, etc."
"I have felt this to be necessary mainly in the light of the phenomenal coverage, scrutiny and analysis -- substantial amount of which was unwarranted -- that the working of the Ethics Committee of Parliament received in the matter of examining and reporting on the purported acts of misdemeanour on the part of a fellow Parliamentarian and colleague Mohua Moitra," he said.
The Congress leader said given the facts about the examination of and reporting on the complaints of misdemeanour on the part of Moitra by the Ethics Committee, "I would once again urge upon you to have the entire processes relating to the jurisdiction and procedures followed examined and such remedial measures, as needed, taken towards streamlining the functioning."
To ensure that members do not become susceptible and find themselves on the "wrong side", the protocols relating to the functioning of the Lok Sabha's official portal will have to be looked into and reviewed, he asserted.
"I am sure that under your leadership and control, no injustice will be done and the processes relating to the functioning of Parliament and conduct of the business of the House is smoothened for the benefit of all members," Chowdhury said.
Citing records, Chowdhury said the Lok Sabha's Ethics Committee, prior to proceedings against Moitra, dealt with a miniscule number of cases that mainly pertained to purported acts of deviation from the general norms of conduct with the punitive action recommended being confined to admonition, reprimand and suspension from sittings of the House for a specified period.
"The purported act of misdemeanour on the part of Mahua Moitra, which is sharing her 'login credentials and passwords' for the 'official portal' with a Dubai-based businessman to 'raise questions in Parliament in return for gifts/favours' has also been compared and a parallel drawn with the 2005 case where 10 members of Lok Sabha were expelled for receiving cash for posing questions in Parliament," he noted.
He also cited other past instances to underline his arguments.
Chowdhury said the Dubai-based businessman who purportedly had access to Moitra's "login credentials" and was placing questions on her behalf was, according to reports, not called for deposing.
"It is also not clearly known as to why the businessman chose to turn against the member (Moitra) despite his interests apparently being served by way of posing questions by using the login credentials. Accepting gifts and giving gifts … applied is a common social practice and it would be extremely difficult to link or attribute accepting gifts to be a money trail for deriving favours," Chowdhury said in the letter.
The Congress leader also pointed out that the proceedings of the committee's sittings are strictly confidential.
"Yet, the chairman of the Ethics Committee as well as the complainant member were openly parading their views and passing judgments while the matter was under investigation and formulation of the findings and framing the report was underway," he said.