Opposition protests on snooping, other issues rock Rajya Sabha

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LoP and Rajya Sabha MP Mallikarjun Kharge along with other MPs speaks to media outside Parliament House

NEW DELHI: Proceedings in Rajya Sabha were repeatedly disrupted on Monday before being called off for the day as opposition members protested on the alleged phone-tapping and other issues and demanded discussions on them in the House. Soon after the House paid glowing tributes to the martyrs of the Kargil war and congratulated Mirabai Chanu for winning a silver medal in Tokyo Olympics, MPs belonging to the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other opposition parties rushed into the Well raising slogans against the government.
Amid the din, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said he has not allowed notices under Rule 267 by opposition leaders including from Mallikarjun Kharge and K C Venugopal (both Congress), Tiruchi Siva (DMK), TMC's Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, Elamaram Kareen (CPM) and others as the issues they want to raise are being discussed in the normal course of time.
Rule 267 provides for setting aside the business of the day to take up discussion on the issue being sought to be raised.
Naidu said members are being prevented from raising issues of public importance by such conduct.
He did not mention the issues the MPs wanted to raise under Rule 267.
When the House met again in the evening after five adjournments, opposition members who were protesting in the Well returned to their seats but they disrupted the proceedings again after BJD member Sasmit Patra, in the Chair, called for discussion on the navigation bill.
RJD member Manoj Jha said that there are pressing issues but the government has not reached out to the members to evolve a formula for the working of the House.
Leader of the House Piyush Goyal said that approached the leader of the opposition and principal opposition parties but there is no consensus among them.
"I have requested everyone to join me for a cup of tea for an informal discussion last Friday. Two of the principal parties refused to come for that also.
"One party said that I will get instructions from my leader, another said my leader has said not to attend. The government has been reaching out to the opposition again and again," Goyal said.
He again invited members of the opposition for discussion in the evening.
"This disruption by some of the opposition parties is quite harmful for India democracy. It goes against the principle of this house," Goyal said.
Parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi said that he along with Goyal approached the leader of the opposition (LoP), Mallikarjun Kharge, who has said that he will revert to them after discussion with members.
DMK MP Tiruchi Seva said that as per the convention of the House the prime minister and the LoP should not be interrupted but the LoP was interrupted by a minister.
Amid continuing protests by the opposition, the House was adjourned for the day.
Earlier in the day, agitated members pressed the Chair to allow the leader of opposition to speak and created an uproar
Naidu said important public interest issues have been allowed to be raised through zero hour and special mention but "the house is not able to perform its duty... members they are denied an opportunity."
"We are becoming helpless day by day," he said. Since the start of the monsoon session of Parliament last week, zero-hour mentions which members could not raise because of disruption pertained to wide-ranging issues including Covid vaccine, unemployment due to the pandemic, problems of students availing higher education, hike in petroleum product prices, freedom of the press, killings of Indians in South Africa and sharing of Cauvery waters between states.
"All these important issues could not be discussed because of this situation," he said, referring to the disruption being caused by the opposition MPs.
"We are becoming helpless. People should know what are the important issues admitted, members were present, they want to speak but they were not permitted by few," he said.
Soon after he adjourned the proceedings till noon.
Similar protests continued after the House met again and the proceedings were adjourned four more times till 5 PM.
As soon as the House reassembled at 4 PM, BJD member Sasmit Patra, in the Chair, asked Jugalsinh Mathurji Lokhandwala to continue the debate on The Marine Aids to Navigation Bill, 2021.
However, he could not continue for long as opposition members again raised slogans against the government.
Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge sought a debate under Rule 267 which was not allowed by the Chair.
Patra noted that the Chairman has already given his verdict on the matter and so it could not be considered.
Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has already spoken in the House regarding the alleged snooping using an Israeli company spyware Pegasus.
With sloganeering continuing, Patra adjourned the House till 5 PM.
Recently, an international media consortium claimed that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India, could have been targeted for hacking through the Pegasus spyware of the Israeli firm NSO.
The government has been denying all allegations levelled by the Opposition in the matter.
Earlier, when the proceedings resumed after lunch at 2 PM, BJP member Surendra Singh Nagar, in the Chair, asked Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani to withdraw The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2012.
Nagar asked BJP leader Jugalsinh Mathurji Lokhandwala to initiate a discussion on The Marine Aids to Navigation Bill, 2021. While Lokhandwala was speaking on the bill, opposition members asked Nagar to allow the Leader of Opposition to speak.
However, Nagar said the members should first return to their seats. He also said that he will allow the LoP to speak after the first speaker on the bill completes his submission.
But the opposition members refused to relent and started raising slogans against the government. Amid the din, Nagar adjourned the House till 3 PM.
During the pre-lunch session, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman laid the papers pertaining to a notification on reduction of customs duties amid the din. deputy chairman Harivansh made repeated appeals to the protesting members to return to their seats and allow the Question Hour to be taken up.
He, however, continued with the question hour amid the din by opposition members.
"This is the House of elders and you should behave accordingly. Please return to your seats and allow the question hour to function," the deputy chairman said.

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