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Pegasus row disrupts both Houses of Parliament for 3rd day in a row

Pegasus row disrupts both Houses of Parliament for 3rd day in a row
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New Delhi: High drama continued in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for the third straight day of the Monsoon Session on Thursday as Opposition MPs staged protests over a range of issues, including the Pegasus snooping controversy and I-T raids on media houses.

In the Rajya Sabha, Electronics and Information Technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw was forced to cut short his statement on the row by the uproar among Opposition members.

When Vaishnaw rose to speak on Pegasus, Trinamool Congress MP Shantanu Sen snatched his papers, tore, and flung them at Deputy Chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh, forcing the minister to lay the paper on the table instead.

In the statement, Vaishnaw, whose phone number was among those listed as compromised by Washington Post, called the reports an "attempt to malign the Indian democracy and its well-established institutions".

"A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations made around this story," he said.

"The press reports appeared a day before the Monsoon Session of Parliament. This can't be a coincidence."

He added: "In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus.... Those claims had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties." Amid the ruckus, Vaishnaw implored all members of the House to "examine the issue on facts and logic".

There was a heated exchange of words between Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri and the Trinamool MP, after which marshals had to intervene to bring the situation under control.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Rajya Sabha MPs, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy and Derek O'Brien said protest in both the Houses of Parliament would continue till Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home minister Amit Shah made a structured statement on the floor of the House on the Pegasus issue.

"We will not accept any written statement by the duo, which will be read in Parliament, but a thorough discussion on the matter," O'Brien said. The Rajya Sabha was later adjourned till Friday, the third time through the day.

It was first adjourned till noon and then till 2 pm after MPs trooped into the Well of the House raising slogans and holding placards. "Members seem to be not interested in discussing people's issues," Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said, adjourning the proceedings earlier in the day.

Sen said after the House was adjourned, Puri threatened him and "was about to attack me physically". "My colleagues came to my rescue. This was very unfortunate," he added.

The government will seek action against some Opposition MPs who allegedly misbehaved with the Treasury Bench members in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday after Sen snatched papers from Vaishnaw and tore those as he was about to make a statement on the alleged snooping row.

Government sources said some Opposition MPs "misbehaved" with the Treasury Bench members, including a minister, even after the House was adjourned.

The Central government will bring a privilege motion against TMC MPs who misbehaved with the IT minister, ANI reported citing sources.

"We are approaching the Rajya Sabha Chairman seeking action against them as their behaviour is a blow to parliamentary decorum," a Union minister, who did not wish to be named, said.

The ruling BJP has described the Opposition's conduct as a "new low" in Parliament.

The BJP on Thursday claimed that the story on the alleged snooping through Israeli spyware Pegasus is "concocted, fabricated and evidence-less" and that the new reports based on it call for "defamation".

Union minister and BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi cited reports to claim that Amnesty International, the human rights group associated with Pegasus Project, has denied the existence of a list of potential targets of the alleged snooping.

Addressing a press conference at the BJP headquarters, she alleged that the "fake" list is like a collection of mobile numbers drawn from yellow pages and those have been used for "yellow journalism".

The Lok Sabha proceedings were repeatedly adjourned on Thursday amid sloganeering by Opposition members over various issues, including three recent farm laws.

When the House re-assembled at 4 pm after the repeated adjournments, the uproarious scenes continued even as Bhartruhari Mahtab, who was in the Chair, asked the protesting members to go back to their seats.

However, the Opposition members did not relent, forcing the Chair to adjourn the proceedings for the day. The Lok Sabha will meet at 11 am on Friday.

Earlier, the proceedings were adjourned thrice and the last adjournment was till 4 pm.

The Opposition members raised slogans over a range of issues, including the Pegasus snooping row and demanding a rollback of the three farm laws.

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