Four gifts, ‘serious risks’, ‘no expertise to investigate’: 5 takeaways from ethics panel report on Mahua Moitra

The opposition has termed the report a ‘fixed match’. Moitra allegedly admitted to receiving ‘four things’.

WrittenBy:Aban Usmani
Date:
A cutout of Moitra with the Parliament building in the background.
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The Lok Sabha on Friday expelled Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra over cash-for-query allegations after a motion based on an ethics committee report. Moitra has been accused of misusing her credentials, accepting gifts, and of favours for businessman Darshan Hiranandani, a competitor of industrialist Gautam Adani. 

While opposition MPs called this report tabled by the panel’s chairman Vinod Kumar Sonkar a “fixed match”, and the Trinamool sought a minimum of 48 hours to review the report, the government proceeded with the resolution that led to Moitra’s expulsion post-lunch. The opposition argued that the complaint by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey accusing Moitra of breach of parliamentary privileges had lacked substantial evidence. 

The committee had adopted its recommendations on November 9, with six MPs, including suspended Congress member Preneet Kaur, voting in favour and four opposition MPs filing dissent notes.

But what does the report say? Let’s look at the key takeaways from the 495-page report. 

Past precedents

To justify Moitra’s expulsion, the report lists out past precedents.

These include the cash for query case of 2005, when 10 MPs, including several BJP members were accused of taking bribes for posing queries in Parliament. It said a committee led by Pawan Kumar Bansal had examined the role of these MPs as well as a sting operation which was aired on a news channel. “The committee also noted that all the members have denied the allegations.” It said a motion to expel these MPs was adopted by voice vote on December 23, 2005.

It then lists out the H G Mudgal case of 1951 in which MP Mudgal was accused of propaganda in Parliament for a business group. “The report was then considered by the House on a motion moved by the then prime minister,” it said, adding that the panel recommended Mudgal’s expulsion.

The parliament questions

The report, titled “examination/investigation of alleged ‘unethical conduct’ of Mahua Moitra”, states that the Trinamool MP visited Dubai, where businessman and Adani’s business rival Darshan Hiranandani lives, on four occasions between January 1, 2019, and September 30, 2023. It claimed that her login credentials to the Parliament portal were used from Dubai 47 times, alleging that the IP address was the same.

To point to an alleged breach of privilege, it said the access could lead to the “possibility of leakage of sensitive material which could be exploited by inimical elements to the detriment of national security”. It claimed that several crucial documents such as the copy of the J&K delimitation law were not in public domain.

The report also claimed that there was a “serious risk” of leakage of sensitive information to foreign agencies. Unauthorised individuals can “interfere in the affairs of the parliament by manipulating parliamentary information to serve his/her commercial interests and/for other ulterior motives”. 

The panel also claimed that 50 of Moitra’s 61 questions were posed to protect or propagate Hirandandani’s business interests.

Newslaundry had earlier reported on the list of questions.

While Moitra has said that there is no parliamentary norm governing sharing of passwords, the report cited section 66 read with section 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, listing out punishment for sharing login credentials in a “fraudulent and dishonest manner”.

Moitra’s evidence

In her defence, Moitra admitted to receiving “four things” from Hiranandani but stressed that she had done nothing unethical and had only sought Hiranandani’s “typing assistance”.

Responding to Jai Anant Dehadrai’s allegations and Hiranandani’s affidavit, the report quotes Moitra as saying, “If Jai Dehadrai has said cash, Hiranandani is the bribe giver, he should have also said cash. There is no mention of cash in Hiranandani’s affidavit. He has given a very vague thing – travel expenses. What are the travel expenses? A bus ticket can also be a travel expense…”

“If I have taken cash, yes, it is unethical. But there is nothing to corroborate it, number one. Number two, in Hiranandani’s affidavit, there are no details. Here, you have an ex-boyfriend with a very acrimonious history…Mr (Nishikant) Dubey has very conveniently omitted the fact that Mr Jai Dehadrai is my ex-partner…it is a very vital piece of non-disclosure of information which could prove that the complaint was in bad faith.”

The report quotes Moitra as saying that Hiranandani had the login credentials to one of the two Parliament IDs which were used to upload questions. According to the report, the TMC MP had requested Hiranandani’s help to assign some staffer who could type in the questions. “All of us know that none of the 543 MPs themselves type the questions,” the report quoted Moitra as saying.

“Darshan is my dear friend; I talk to him all the time. He is very wealthy. I am a banker; most of my friends are very wealthy. I have people whom I know are 10 times wealthier than Darshan. It makes no difference to me. I come from a Zamindari family in Bengal…I was talking to Darshan. I said, I am sitting here, my PA is a Bengali speaker. In those days, I never logged in. I used to find it so irritating to write those questions and go and give it every morning at 10 o’clock…all my chaps or my PAs are Bengali-speaking people…as far as portal ID is concerned, it is with 10 people in everyone’s office,” Moitra said, according to the report, while denying that anyone had access to her email account.

About the renovation of her government bungalow, Moitra reportedly said that Hiranandani’s architect provided drawings for the house and the TMC used them to get the property renovated on government expenditure.

The report also quoted Moitra as admitting to having received “four things” from Hiranandani. “One, scarf; two, makeup from Baby Brown from Dubai airport; three, architect’s drawings of my house which was renovated by CPWD; and four, a car and a driver in Mumbai and Dubai…my questions are all my own. My OTP was mine. My login ID and password were shared with someone in his office to upload it. This is my statement. I have not done anything unethical.”

Talking about gifts, she said, according to the report, Moitra said, “It depends on what gift it is and also depends on the quid pro quo. If I have someone who is my childhood friend and he wants to give me a Rs 2 lakh saree for my birthday and wants nothing in return, that is absolutely okay.

“This is not an email access and password. The main thing is the supervised access…there are no rules which were given to us as to who could or who could not operate it…without the OTP, there is no access…nobody can put in even a single question. The OTP came to me.”

‘Unruly conduct’ of opposition MPs

While referring to the panel’s meeting on November 2, the report said that Moitra “was making attempts to digress from the aspect of ‘unethical conduct’” and instead “insisted on listening to the story of ‘personal’ relationships” with Jai Anant Dehadrai and Hiranandani. “The committee had explicitly exhibited ‘no interest’ whatsoever.”

Asked about her visits to Dubai and the hotel she stayed at, Moitra “angrily insinuated” the panel for “asking ‘personal and unethical’ questions” and also “openly abused” the chairperson, said the report. “Some other members of the committee, especially Kunwar Danish Ali, also started shouting,” it said, adding that Mahua instigated the members by urging them to boycott the meeting.

It claimed that Danish Ali “dishonestly twisted” the clarification sought by the panel about Moitra’s stay in Dubai to a question about “who she slept with”.

‘Two broad aspects of probe’

The report said there were “two broad aspects” – ethics and criminality. It pointed to the sharing of login credentials, and alleged acceptance of cash and “amenities” by Hiranandani. It also mentioned the “spreading of rumours” by Danish Ali.

It then lists out that it reached out to central ministries and received detailed replies from the ministry of home affairs, the ministry of electronics and information technology, and the ministry of external affairs, to attempt to substantiate the allegations of sharing of login credentials.

However, it relies on Hiranandani’s affidavit and Moitra’s statement before the committee and during an India Today interview to claim that cash and gifts changed hands in breach of ethics. 

It claims that during an interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, Moitra admitted to having received several gifts from Hiranandani, including a “Bobbi Brown brand lipstick and eyeshadow”, Hermès scarf, makeup articles, a car during her visits to Mumbai and Dubai, and architect drawings.

“As regards taking ‘cash’ from Sri Darshan Hiranandani as a sequel to quid pro quo, the committee wish to candidly point out that they do not have the technical wherewithal and expertise to criminally investigate and unearth the money trail, which is invariably the task of central government institutions.”  

It then suggests a probe may be eventually carried out to investigate the matter.

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