Gutka row: DMK seeks 15 days time to reply to panel notice

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Chennai, Sep 5 (PTI): DMK MLAs including opposition leader M K Stalin on Tuesday sought 15 days’ time to reply to an assembly privileges panel notice against them over bringing banned ‘gutka’ inside the Tamil Nadu Assembly. A set of DMK MLAs met a senior official of the state assembly and gave a letter in this regard, Stalin said.

He said they had sought 15 days’ time to discuss the matter with legal experts and give a due response.

“We have mentioned (in the letter) that the notice sent by them does not come under the privileges ambit. But we have sought 15 days’ time to consult our legal experts in order to draft a due response,” Stalin told reporters. The DMK working president said the K Palaniswami-led state government had “lost majority”, in an apparent reference to the revolt of 19 AIADMK MLAs against the chief minister, and questioned its right to serve notices on the opposition MLAs. “But still we want to perform our democratic duty and therefore, the letter seeking 15 days’ time has been given,” he said.

The Privileges Committee, headed by Deputy Speaker Pollachi V Jayaraman, had on August 28 issued notice to Stalin and 20 other DMK legislators for having brought gutka (chewable tobacco) to the House in July. The panel had sent notices to the DMK MLAs seeking their explanation within a week.

On July 19, DMK MLAs led by Stalin had created a furore in the assembly when they held up gutka sachets, prompting Speaker P Dhanapal to refer their action to the privileges committee. The Speaker had then said the DMK MLAs’ action amounted to “breach of privilege”. During a debate that day in the House, Stalin sought to raise the issue of alleged availability of gutka in the state.

The issue of ‘gutka’ (a mixture of chewing tobacco and betel nut) has created a political furore in Tamil Nadu. Searches by Income Tax authorities in the premises of a gutka manufacturer here last year had led to unearthing of documents claiming a “payout” to a minister and officials including a senior police officer, as a quid pro quo for overlooking the sale of the banned product. Ever since the matter came into the limelight, the opposition DMK has been targeting the ruling AIADMK for allegedly allowing gutka sales and the alleged graft involved in it.

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