The coronavirus pandemic was at the centre of discussions in the Parliament on Friday with Opposition leaders asking why they had to leave their homes to come attend sessions while the government has put strict restrictions in place to control the spread of infection, PTI reported.

Congress MP Anand Sharma asked whether the Parliament was exempt from the laws passed by it as the Epidemic Act enforced by the government forbids people above the age of 65 from leaving their homes.

Raising the matter during the Zero Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Sharma said both he and Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu were above the age of 65 and were attending Parliament despite the government’s advisories.

“The Epidemic Act has been invoked in Delhi and in the rest of the country,” Sharma said. “Is the Parliament exempt from the laws that it makes?” The leader questioned what example the Parliament was setting about respect for laws.

Responding to Sharma, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said the government was leading by example in running Parliament. He said it was a message to the people that MPs were performing their duties. Goyal said the Epidemic Act and the government notification exempts essential services and that MPs were serving the nation like doctors above the age of 65 were serving the nation.

“It is a symbol of leadership,” Goyal said. “We are leading from the front. We are doing our duties and people are supporting us.”

Lok Sabha

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said the Parliament supports Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for self-imposed people’s curfew, ANI reported. “All parties have agreed to it. In this time of crisis we all will stand together, this is the specialty of Indian democracy,” he said.

The Lok Sabha also saw confrontation between the Treasury and Opposition benches over claims that essential commodities were fast disappearing from shelves after Modi’s address to the nation. Modi had warned people against panic buying and hoarding of essential items.

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that “the markets are on fire” after Modi’s address. He alleged that prices of commodities, including food items, have gone up and essential items are fast disappearing. “Masks are not available ... hoarders are stocking up things,” he said amid protests by Treasury benches.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi said the government has taken effective steps to deal with the outbreak and the suggestions made by Modi must be honoured. He and his Cabinet colleague Prakash Javadekar rejected the allegations saying, “Don’t press panic button. Everything is available.”