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SAGA CORNER

Pepper spray in Parliament, does it strike a chord? No, understandable!

Harold Wilson (1916-95) served twice as Labour Prime Minister during one of the greatest periods of social and industrial change in the 20th century. His party won the following year’s General Election with a slim majority of just four seats and Wilson became Prime Minister for the first time. In the lead up to the election he is supposed to have coined the famous phrase, ‘A week is a long time in politics.’

Here we are talking about what should be an unforgettable incident/episode that marked the life of the 15th Lok Sabha (2009 to May 18, 2014). But life is an overtime job! We have no time to think what happened last year.

All the reason to remind ourselves of the past once in a while! This is about the infamous pepper attack on February 13, at 12 pm in the Lok Sabha, when the then Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde sought to introduce the AP Reorganisation Bill, involving the than MP from the combined state of Andhra Pradesh L. Rajagopal.

Well it is over 2 years, nine months and a few days more. It is difficult to believe but the simple truth till date no authority has managed to pin down the former Member of Parliament on any count.

A gritty former fraternity colleague turned Supreme Court lawyer Vijayawada Sravaran Kumar K has been relentlessly pursuing the matter at various levels through the Right to Information (RTI) representations to the Lok Sabha Secretariat as well as Delhi Police. His efforts so far have not yielded any results and yet he is no mood to give up.

On November 16 the Lok Sabha Secretariat in a reply to his representation made on October 10, 2016 gave a flat reply. It reads, “It is stated that due to dissolution of 15th Lok Sabha on 18 May 2014, all matters pending before the Committees/House lapse. Consequently, this matter referred to the Committee of Privileges also stands lapsed and no recommendations in the matter were given by the Committee’’.

In the words of Mr. Kumar, “I am going to file an appeal on the latest reply I have received from the Lok Sabha Secretariat’’.

A reply by Lok Sabha secretariat to a RTI query reveals that the matter which was pending before the committee of privileges lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha on May 18, 2014.

“On 14 February, 2014, Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha under the powers conferred under Rule 227 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha had referred the matter relating to ‘contempt of the House committed by L. Rajagopal, MP for spraying pepper and also by some other members for indulging in unruly acts/behaviour on 13 February, 2014 in the House’ to the committee of privileges for examination, investigation and report,” said the Lok Sabha secretariat in reply to a RTI query.

The Lok Sabha was dissolved just three months after the pepper spray incident was referred to the committee of privileges. Mr. Satyanarayana had sought to know if an inquiry was ordered into the pepper episode and if any action was taken.

Mr. Rajagopal, who was representing Vijayawada, sent shock waves across with his action by spraying pepper when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was to come up before the Lok Sabha. Mr. Rajagopal, who was suspended by the Congress earlier that month for defying the party leadership, brought a canister from which he sprayed pepper. Some MPs and journalists were affected.

The next day Speaker Meira Kumar had suspended 17 MPs from Andhra Pradesh including Rajagopal from the house for a week for their unruly behaviour.

All political parties had demanded action against Mr. Rajagopal and the Congress-led UPA Government had said it would not oppose whatever decision the Speaker takes in this regard. Meira Kumar had termed the incident as a ‘blot on democracy and referred it to the committee of privileges, which has got punitive powers.

Rajagopal, who was opposed to division of Andhra Pradesh, had defended his action saying he sprayed pepper in self-defence. Post-script to the February 14, 2014 incident in the Lok Sabha at the stroke of 12 p.mgives reason to feel relieved. It came to light later that contrary to the common belief, L. Rajagopal’s spray can did not contain either pepper or chilli powder.

What he used in the Lok Sabha in an act that left fellow MPs in tears and the entire House red-faced is a chemical substance banned in war. The chemical is called capsaicin, derived from the fruits of plants like capsicum or chilli. What goes into the can, as sold in India, is capsaicin converted into a resin, mixed with an emulsifier and water, and then pressurised.

After the Delhi gang-rape, the sales of the spray spiked in India, a can contains 50-100 ml. Its use is banned in war by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits riot-control agents. When sprayed on a person’s face, capsaicin immediately causes his/her eyes to close, obstructs breathing, causes a runny nose and coughing. As capsaicin is not soluble, washing the eyes after an attack does not help. Time is the main healer, typically one or two hours, depending on the person’s health.

According to the European Parliament Scientific and Technological Options Assessment report, published in 1998, temporary blindness is also possible for 15-30 minutes and upper-body spasms, for three to 15 minutes.

Though banned in many countries, pepper spray is legal in India and does not require any licence or documentation to buy. However, manufacturers require a government licence. A canister costs between Rs.150 and Rs. 1,000.

About the author: The author is a practicing hack, a cynic to core.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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