Govt denies wrongdoing in phone-tap row

An unrelenting opposition demanded a parliamentary probe and stalled both Houses on Monday.

New Delhi: After rising prices and cricket, reports that the phones of senior politicians were being tapped took centrestage in Parliament on Monday with an unrelenting opposition demanding a parliamentary probe and stalling both Houses in spite of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreeing to make a statement.

Even a statement by Home Minister P Chidambaram "categorically" denying that the government had ordered the taps failed to satisfy MPs, who demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC). The issue forced three adjournments of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, the final ones for the day.

In identical statements in both Houses, Chidambaram said the government had investigated but found "nothing to substantiate" the phone-tapping allegations reported in Outlook news magazine.

"I wish to state categorically that no telephone tapping or eavesdropping of political leaders was authorised by the previous UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government. Nor has the present UPA government authorised any such activity," Chidambaram maintained.

He said the allegations in the story were "thoroughly" inquired into after the magazine hit the stands late Friday. "Nothing has been found in the records to substantiate the allegations."

Outlook had said the government was tapping the telephones of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Prakash Karat and Congress leader Digvijay Singh.

Not satisfied with what Chidambaram had said, the opposition in the Lok Sabha continued to demand that the prime minister make a statement on the issue. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee then announced that Manmohan Singh would do so at 3.30 pm.

However, the ruckus, which had begun when the House assembled at 11.00 am and forced two adjournments, continued when the House assembled after the lunch recess, prompting a third adjournment, this one for the day.

Speaking in the Lok Sabha ahead of Chidambaram, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani wondered if the Emergency days were back in India.

Recalling the tumultuous 1975-77 political period in India, Advani called for new legislation that "must provide statutory safeguards to make it impossible for the government to abuse its powers against political activists".

The focus is now on the cut motion on the Budget the opposition is likely to move in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. But with the government having apparently won over the Bahujan Samaj Party, this is likely to be defeated.

In the Rajya Sabha, BJP members SS Ahluwalia, Najma Heptullah, M Venkiah Naidu and Ravi Shankar Prasad, joined by Sitaram Yechury and D Raja of the Left parties as well as Samajwadi Party and AIADMK MPs, raised the issue as the House assembled.

Not satisfied when Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prithviraj Chavan offered to make a statement after Question Hour, they initially demanded a statement from the prime minister and then a JPC probe.

Chairman Hamid Ansari first adjourned the house till 12.00 noon. With the commotion continuing unabated, Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan adjourned the house till 12.30 pm and finally for the day after Chidambaram had made his statement.

Parliament has been able to function normally for only four days after the Budget Session resumed April 15 after a month-long recess. First the spiralling food prices and then alleged corruption in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) had stalled the functioning of both Houses.

This apart, the alleged irregularities in the bidding for the IPL`s Kochi franchise cost junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor his job.


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