Assembly Ethics Committee exonerates Isaac. Opposition says unjust to leave CAG side unheard

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The Privileges and Ethics Committee Report that exonerated Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac, accused of breaching Assembly's privilege by revealing the contents of a CAG report before it was tabled in the Assembly, came in for some withering criticism in the Assembly on Thursday.

Congress legislator V D Satheesan, who moved the privilege motion against the minister, said the Assembly committee violated the principles of natural justice.

The Ethics Committee Report, which came up for discussion in the Assembly on Thursday, found fault with the Comptroller and Auditor General office for inserting eight paragraphs without consulting with the government. "Have you gathered any information from the CAG before stating this in the report", Satheesan asked A Pradeep Kumar, the chairman of the committee. "You cannot reach a conclusion on the basis of the finance minister's words alone. This is immoral," he said.

Satheesan said the committee could have sent a set of questions to the CAG through the Legislature Secretariat. "You didn't even have to summon anyone. They would have definitely responded to queries put by an Assembly committee," he said.

Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala also said the committee should have elicited information from the CAG.

Pradeep Kumar did not brush aside the argument, like the finance minister later did. Kumar said the Assembly could take a joint decision to summon the CAG officials and take their version. This suggestion, however, was not taken seriously by other ruling members. The finance minister argued that natural justice was first violated by the CAG by adding paragraphs that were not in the draft report and was not mentioned even during the exit meeting held to discuss the draft report.

CPM MLA M Swaraj said the committee had adhered to the principle of natural justice as it had heard both sides, V D Satheesan, the person who moved the motion, and the minister. Satheesan said it was not enough to hear both sides. "It should have heard all sides," he said. "The Committee has foisted grave mistakes on a Constitutional body like the CAG without hearing its side," he said.

Satheesan also said that the Privileges and Ethics Committee had "conveniently" used a report of the Rajya Sabha Privileges and Ethics Committee to let Isaac off the hook. The Rajya Sabha Committee, headed by Congress leader P J Kurien, had in a similar case involving the leak of CAG report said that it did not involve breach of the Parliament's privilege.

Satheesan said it was true that the Rajya Sabha Committee had said it was technically not breach of privilege but had also added that "it makes a gross impropriety". Satheesan wanted to know why this part was ignored.

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