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Parliament suspemds lawmaler

By KUSHAL JEENA, UPI Correspondent   |   Dec. 13, 2005 at 2:44 PM   |   Comments

NEW DELHI, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- An Opposition politician in the Indian Parliament was suspended Tuesday after he was found to be taking cash to ask questions of the government in a television sting operation.

Indian Constitutional experts have suggested the ruling United Progressive Alliance government should pass stringent laws to root out corruption among the lawmakers.

"The actions of the Bhartiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Chhatrapal Singh Lodha, as shown in a TV sting operation, were tantamount to a serious violation of the Code of Conduct. The House suspends him pending the completion of the inquiry," said Karan Singh, Chairman of the Ethics Committee of Indian House of States (Rajya Sabha).

Singh, who presented the report of his Committee to the House, said the Committee had taken serious note of the incident that had tarnished the image of the Parliament.

"Mr. Lodha has been given 48 hours time to explain his version to the Committee," Singh said.

Two Houses of Indian Parliament and the political establishment in New Delhi were rocked Monday after TV news channel Aaj Tak (Today) showed 11 lawmakers from across party lines accepting cash from the correspondents who carried out the sting operation.

The political parties Congress, BJP, Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal dismissed their MPs after they were shown to have accepted cash amounts ranging from 10,000 to 35,000 rupees. Of those caught in the sting, six were members of the main Opposition right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party, three from a regional party BSP and one each from ruling Congress and RJD.

"We have taken immediate action and dismissed our MP Ramsevak Singh as his name figured in the sting operation, "said Jairam Ramesh, spokesman of the ruling Congress party. The BJP also suspended its six MPs and referred the matter to a three-member party committee.

The lawmakers in question include Suresh Chandel, Pradeep Gandhi, Anna Patil, Y.G. Mahajan, Chandra Pratap Singh and Chhatrapal Singh Lodha (all BJP), Narendra Kumar Kushwaha, Raja Ram Pal and Lal Chandra (all BSP), Ramsevak Singh (Congress) and Manoj Kumar (RJD).

The Speaker of the House of People (Lok Sabha), Somnath Chatterjee, expressed anguish and asked the 11 MPs to stay away from the proceedings of the House till the completion of the inquiry.

"Nobody will be spared. We shall certainly respond to it in a manner that behooves us," Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee set up a 12-member House Committee to probe the matter. The Committee has been asked to submit its report on Dec. 21 as 10 of the 11 involved in the sting operation were from Lok Sabha.

"The Committee is authorized to follow its own procedure. The report will be presented before the House for its consideration," the Speaker said.

"The incident has undermined the dignity of the Rajya Sabha and members will have to think seriously on how to maintain its dignity, "said Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

The sting operation -- reportedly involving 56 video and 70 audiotapes and more than 900 recorded phone calls -- was conducted over a period of nine months.

"The undercover reporters, posing as representatives of a fictitious organization, the North Indian Small Manufacturers Association, struck deals with these MPs to get their questions raised in Parliament in exchange for cash," said Aniruddha Bahl, the head of Cobrapost.com, who sold the tapes to news channel Aaj Tak.

He said each of these MPs had been paid between 15,000 and 110,000 rupees on several occasions to ask questions in Parliament.

"Several MPs wanted an annual fee of 500,000 to 600,000 rupees from the forged organization to put in as many proxy questions. In fact, the government in the last session of Parliament answered some of them," Bahl said.

The Indian Constitution allows politicians to ask the questions of the government on any issue during question hour in Parliament.

This is the biggest incident in which lawmakers were caught taking bribes on camera.

In 1951, H.G. Mudgal's membership of Congress was terminated after it was established that he was on the contract of a bullion association and was asking questions for payment.

Constitutional experts say there are anomalies in the law book that give the opportunity to use Parliamentary proceedings for reasons other than those laid down.

"The government should seriously think over to enact a stringent law to prevent misuse of Parliamentary proceedings," said R. Venkataraman, legal expert at The Telegraph.

He said the presiding officers of two Houses of Parliament should also convene an all-party meeting to formulate ways to prevent misuse of proceedings by politicians to seek financial favors from interested parties.

Topics: Rajya Sabha
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