The coronavirus pandemic impacted proceedings in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday with some Opposition MPs demanding that the government postpone the ongoing Budget session and certain others showing up in masks, PTI reported.
Congress leader MV Rajeev Gowda urged the government to either curtail or postpone the Budget session because of the pandemic. Supporting Gowda’s argument, his party colleague Anand Sharma said the government has been asking people to practice social distancing but is not following it in Parliament. He added that several MPs are senior citizens and hence more vulnerable to contracting the infection.
Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu said it was for the government to decide if the Budget session needs to be cut short.
Members of the Trinamool Congress came to the Rajya Sabha wearing protective masks but were ordered by Naidu to take them off. However, when senior Congress leader P Chidambaram urged Naidu to allow MPs to decide on using protective gear, he agreed.
Assuring the MPs that adequate precautions were being taken, Naidu said the Parliament House complex has been sanitised and temperature checking is being done at the gates before allowing anyone inside. He added that hand sanitisers have been kept at various points.
Rajya Sabha Congress MP Ripun Bora flagged the shortage and high prices of sanitisers and masks amid outbreak of coronavirus. He urged the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to monitor the supply, and ensure their availability and proper prices to avoid panic among the people.
Uproar over Digvijaya Singh’s detention
Congress members protested the detention of senior leader Digvijaya Singh in Bengaluru after he sat in protest over being denied a meeting with rebel MLAs from Madhya Pradesh. Congress MPs tried to raise the matter in the Upper House and sought a reply from the government but Naidu did not allow it. Rajya Sabha also took up The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine Bill, 2019.
Developments in the Lok Sabha
The Ministry of External Affairs told the Lok Sabha that 276 Indians have been infected with coronavirus abroad, including 255 in Iran, 12 in UAE, five in Italy, and one each in Hong Kong, Kuwait, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka, ANI reported. More than 140 cases of coronavirus have been reported in India. On Tuesday, the foreign ministry had refused to confirm the numbers.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Lok Sabha that the Centre was committed to reviving state-owned BSNL but it was not possible to retain all its employees. Prasad also said that there was no scheme to shut down BSNL or pass it on to a private player.
An argument erupted between Prasad and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader A Raja when he raised the matter of statutory dues faced by telecom companies after the Supreme Court ruling. Raja said the government is approaching the top seeking staggered payment of statutory dues by telecom companies. “Arguments [in the case] are still going on in Supreme Court,” Prasad said, adding he did not want to comment on the issue.