New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday accused the Narendra Modi regime of trying to give away Internet space to some corporate groups, a charge vehemently denied by the government.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour in Lok Sabha, Gandhi said the government “wants to distribute Internet among industrialists. Every youth should have access to Internet. This government wants to carve out the Internet and hand it over to some corporates.”
He demanded that either the existing laws be amended or a new law be brought.
Congress and BJP members indulged in a war of words over the issue, as IT and Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took a dig at the erstwhile UPA government over the spectrum allocation scam and claimed that the Modi government wanted internet for all 125 crore Indians.
Gandhi had earlier begun his speech by making a sarcastic reference to US President Barack Obama’s write-up on Modi in a prominent US magazine.
Observing that Obama had written a long piece praising Modi, he said no US President had spoken so highly of an Indian Prime Minister and the praise was similar to the one made by the then US President for the erstwhile USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, under whom the country had disintegrated.
In his response, Prasad said the BJP government stood for ‘digital India’ and the Internet was available to people in a “non-discriminatory” manner.
“Government wants to assure Parliament… Prime Minister speaks of digital India so that 125 crore people have the Internet,” he said.
Playing down the TRAI consultation paper in this regard which has sparked a debate over net-neutrality, he said the regulatory body was doing it under the Act governing the issue, but it was “for me and the government to take a final call on the issue.”
Attacking the Congress, Prasad said the Modi government had earned over Rs 1.10 lakh crore through the recent spectrum auction. “The whole world knows what happened” during the UPA rule.
“What happened in coal block allocation? … Whose Twitter handles were blocked in August 2012? Parliament may have to debate it one day,” he said.
Congress members were on their feet protesting Prasad’s barb and wanted to seek clarification from him, permission for which was denied by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
“One question, 10 seconds,” Gandhi urged the Speaker. Party leader Mallikarjun Kharge and others rose to his support but the Speaker said that Zero Hour rules did not permit debate or questions but if members wanted, she could allot time for a short debate later.
She said the government was also not required to reply to issues raised in Zero Hour and it was up to a Minister to decide whether he or she wanted to respond to an issue raised.
Prasad said he had formed a committee on the issue of net neutrality in January and its report was expected in May, following which the government will take a decision.
He had earlier said the youth of India had done a commendable job on net neutrality and for Internet expansion in India. “Our government will strive to ensure non-discriminatory availability of Internet for the people of India, particularly the young people.”
Making an intervention after Gandhi spoke, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu objected to “insinuations” against the government by the Congress Vice President and said “they (Congress) do not want response. They want political mileage.”