Demand for curtailing Parliament Session echoed in RS

Mask-wearing TMC MPs demand curtailment of Parliament Session amid coronavirus outbreak

Congress MP Rajeev Gowda received support from several Opposition MPs as they demanded the curtailment of the session

Parliamentarians observe silence during an obituary reference in Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Demand for curtailing the ongoing Budget Session due to COVID-19 grew stronger with Opposition MPs, including mask-wearing Trinamool Congress MPs in Rajya Sabha, raising the issue inside and outside Parliament.

In Rajya Sabha, Trinamool Congress MPs, including its leader Derek O'Brien and Chief Whip Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, attended the proceedings wearing masks, prompting Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu to initially ask them to remove it but later allowing it. 

Later when senior Congress MP P Chidambaram intervened to argue that it would be “unfair” to ask MPs wearing to go out, Naidu relented, saying if they feel vulnerable, he is not imposing any restriction on them.

Soon after reading out obituary reference of former MP and journalist from Karnataka Puttappa Patil, Naidu told the Trinamool MPs to “go out and remove the masks” or else they know what he will do, indicating that he might adjourn the House.

However, Trinamool MPs sat in their seats silently while Congress MP Rajeev Gowda demanded postponing the session, which received support from several Opposition MPs. 

"It is a matter of concern that when we are asking everyone to practice social distancing, Parliament is continuing to function. We should be setting an example to the rest of the country. We meet people from everywhere and we are probably most at risk. The House of Elders has extremely senior people who are at risk...Virus doesn't care whether we are MPS,” Gowda said.

As Congress Deputy Leader Anand Sharma supported Gowda, Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukthar Abbas Naqvi responded saying 130 crore Indians were in a spirited fight against COVID-19. "If we inside the Parliament does not show intent to fight the virus and if we panic, it is not in the interest of the country." Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday had told BJP Parliamentary party meeting that there were no plans to curtail the session. 

As Naqvi finished, Naidu once again asked Trinamool MPs to remove the masks, saying it would be difficult to continue otherwise. 

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram then intervened and said the matter of wearing masks should be left to the judgement of the individual who may be feeling "vulnerable". 

He said, "I think if you impose a standard and say nobody should wear a mask, I think that is not fair. My request is to let the House continue. There are 3-4 members who feel vulnerable enough to wear a mask, let them wear the mask as long as they sit here. But I think it is unfair to ask a member to leave the House for wearing a mask.”

To this, Naidu responded saying they were not setting a precedent and that he has no problem “personally” and “if members feel vulnerable, as Chidambaram has said, and then make their own preventive arrangements, there is no restriction on that”. Earlier, he had not allowed Trinamool Chief Whip Sukhendu Shekhar Roy to speak wearing a mask. 

Soon after Zero Hour mentions started with mask-wearing Trinamool MP Nadimul Haque (Trinamool) making the first speech demanding government intervention in bringing back Indians stranded outside amid COVID-19 outbreak. Mohd Ali Khan and Ripun Bora (Congress) and Sanjay Singh (AAP) also raised issues related to COVID-19.

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