Prasad escapes Parliament grilling on Star News

NEW DELHI: India’s defence ministry came to the defence of another government outfit, the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry - in a manner of speaking.

As the Parliament’s Lower House (Lok Sabha) was adjourned for an hour in the forenoon over a controversial parliamentary committee report on defence issues, washing away the question hour for the day, I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad must have heaved a sigh of relief.

The Opposition had planned to target the government during the Question Hour on another contentious issue of Rupert Murdoch’s Star allegedly flouting various regulations related to the media.

Pandemonium prevailed in the Lok Sabha as the Opposition and the treasury bench members raised slogans and counter-slogans over the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) issue, leading to the adjournment of the House till 12 noon.

Had the Question Hour gone on schedule, Prasad would have had to face a barrage of questions from Opposition parliamentarians on the contentious Star and the conditional access (CAS) issues. Since the first question listed for the day on Star News was a starred one, Prasad would have had to give a verbal reply that could have made the whole thing tricky.

Though Prasad had very ably defended the government’s stand on Star News, it's alleged flouting of guidelines and implementation of CAS earlier in Rajya Sabha on 6 August, a direct assault on the government on Star in Lok Sabha could have evoked fireworks. More so, as a section of the media today reported --- officially denied by parties concerned --- that Star is tying up with Congress Party’s KK Birla-owned Hindustan Times Ltd. for Star News and also forays into the print medium.

Meanwhile, as soon as the House assembled at 11 am, speaker Manohar Joshi allowed Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi to speak on a notice seeking suspension of question hour as the dignity of the Lok Sabha had been lowered by a statement made in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) yesterday commenting upon the functioning of the PAC.

"Only the Lok Sabha or its speaker had any right to comment upon the functioning of the PAC, whose chairman was appointed by the speaker," Dasmunshi said. Further, the PAC had initially had members only from the Lower House and later on members from the Rajya Sabha were included only as associate members.

As such, the PAC has remained and continued to be ''within the domain'' of the Lok Sabha, he argued and demanded suspension of question hour to discuss the issue. The speaker was of the opinion that Dasmunshi had raised a pertinent point, but would not suspend question hour to discuss the issue, which could be raised during zero hour or some other occasion.

Prasad may have got away lightly today, but the Opposition can still raise the issues related to his ministry.

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