New Delhi | The Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha has asked TMC member Mahua Moitra to appear before it on October 31 in relation to cash-for-query allegations levelled against her by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who told the panel on Thursday that it was an "open and shut" case and she should be disqualified.
Dubey and advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai gave "oral evidence" to the panel against the Trinamool Congress MP during the day, after which its chairperson Vinod Kumar Sonkar said the committee will also seek assistance from the Ministries of Home Affairs and IT in probing the allegations.
The panel's meeting began with sharp differences among the 10 members present, excluding the chairperson, on who should they hear first -- the complainant or the accused -- forcing a vote to resolve the matter.
Opposition members cited the recent case involving BSP MP Danish Ali and BJP's Ramesh Bidhuri to note that another parliamentary panel had called the ruling party member, accused of making derogatory comments in Parliament, first, whereas the Ethics Committee was recording the statement of Dubey, the complaint, in its first meeting.
The vote ended in a tie as the members -- five of the ruling BJP and five of opposition parties -- voted on partisan lines, with the Chair casting his deciding vote in favour of hearing Dubey first as scheduled.
After the meeting, Sonkar, a BJP MP, told reporters, "We have decided to ask Mahua Moitra to appear before us on October 31."
In his statement before the panel, Dubey pitched for her disqualification saying the matter pertains to Parliament's dignity and is an issue of national security, sources said, adding that he noted it was an "open and shut" case as even businessman Darshan Hiranandani, who allegedly paid her bribes, has admitted to the charge.
Some panel members belonging to opposition parties, including BSP's Danish Ali and JD(U)'s Giridhari Yadav, called for taking a lenient view in the matter as she was a first-term MP, to which Dubey insisted that an example should be made of her to serve as a lesson to other parliamentarians, sources said.
Dubey cited the 2005 expulsion of 11 MPs, who were caught in a sting operation accepting bribes for asking fixed questions in Parliament, to make his point.
The meeting had its share of heated moments as Congress MP N Uttam Kumar Reddy raised the issue of Dubey's alleged fake degree, a matter often flagged by Moitra, prompting a strong rebuttal as he said the matter has been visited by constitutional bodies like the Election Commission and the Supreme Court, sources said.
He said an FIR in the fake degree matter was quashed by a high court and the Supreme Court upheld it while the EC too agreed with his contention. It seems some people think they are above the apex court and that they are involved in corruption and posing a threat to national security, he claimed.
The committee is also likely to seek a response from the Ministry of External Affairs as a matter of protocol as Hiranandani, accused of giving bribes to Moitra so that she can ask questions in Parliament at his behest, filed an affidavit admitting to the charges before India's consulate in Dubai.
In a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla dated October 15, Dubey said advocate Dehadrai, close to Moitra before they fell out, has shared "irrefutable evidence of bribes exchanged" between her and businessman Darshan Hiranandani to target the Adani Group and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Birla had referred the matter to the Ethics Committee.
The fiery TMC member has dismissed the charges as a "jilted ex's lies", a reference to Dehadrai, and accused the Adani Group of being behind them as she has been relentless in questioning the conglomerate's practices and transactions.
Some members in the meeting, sources said, also referred to Dehadrai's police complaint against Moitra for allegedly stealing his dog but he insisted that it has no bearing on the bribery charges made by him. Other members, mostly from the BJP, objected to the reference to the dog issue, sources said.
Eleven of the committee's 15 members attended the meeting.
In his letter to the speaker, Dubey said 50 of 61 questions she asked in Lok Sabha till recently were focused on the Adani Group.
In a signed affidavit, Hiranandani, the CEO of real estate-to-energy eponymous group, has admitted that he paid her bribes and that she targeted Gautam Adani to "malign and embarrass" Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose impeccable reputation gave opposition no opportunity to attack him.
The affidavit's evidential value is akin to the statement recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, the BJP MP claimed in his submission before the committee.
Dehadrai was the first to record his statement before the Ethics Committee followed by Dubey. He later told reporters that he would reply to whatever questions the committee ask him.
"Documents don't lie," Dubey said when pointed out that Moitra had refuted all the allegations leveled against her.