NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday said creating a Joint Select Committee to examine the Personal Data Protection Bill, instead of sending it to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, sets a dangerous precedent as it will allow the government to bypass the designated panel whenever contentious legislation is under consideration.
Tharoor, who heads the Standing Committee on Information Technology, also wrote a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and expressed his concerns over the issue.
Later, Tharoor also tweeted that the Speaker had asked him this morning to postpone the meeting of the IT Committee in view of a whip issued by BJP to its Rajya Sabha members which would make it impossible for them to attend and, therefore, he deferred it to December 13.
"I specifically asked the Speaker whether his request affected all Committee meetings scheduled for today. He assured me it did. I am shocked to learn that the other Committees held their meetings and ours was the only one not allowed to meet. Does the government have something to hide?" he said in another tweet.
Lok Sabha, earlier, referred the Personal Data Protection Bill to a Joint Select Committee.
"The exercise in creating a Joint Select Committee on a matter that rests squarely within the purview of an existing Standing Committee sets a dangerous precedent since it will allow the government to bypass the designated standing committee in every instance where a contentious bill is under consideration," Tharoor wrote in his letter to Birla.
"It would effectively render our Parliamentary Committees ineffective since it will prevent them from undertaking their primary responsibility which is to provide effective oversight of the relevant government department," he said.
In a "brazen disregard" for the Standing Committee, and by extension the parliamentary convention relating to such panels, this government has chosen to establish a Joint Select Committee presumably to extend its control by a chairman from the ruling party, he alleged.
Tharoor said that the decision of creating a Joint Select Committee not only undermines the utility of India's Constitution but is also a "scathing indictment" of the effectiveness of the Indian Parliament as an institution to promote the exercise of deliberative democracy that all elected representatives are here to protect, he said.
"The Committee on IT, that has been formed under your leadership and of which I have the privilege to serve as its chairman, has both a mandate and a parliamentary responsibility to examine all matters related to information technology, electronics, telecommunications, postal services and allied subjects," Tharoor said, adding that this includes legislation on these matters and the Personal Data Protection Bill.
Communication and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, while moving a resolution in the House, said the bill may be referred to a joint select committee.
The resolution was passed by voice vote.
In the letter, Tharoor urged Birla to "caution" the government against this "wilful exercise of undermining the House" and request the minister to send the legislation to the Standing Committee.
"Dismayed by the government doing an end-run around the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology by allocating the Data Privacy Bill to a 'joint select committee' which the BJP will chair," Tharoor said in a tweet.
The joint panel will have 20 members from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.
The Upper House will give names of the members it wants to send to the panel.