The Punjab Vidhan Sabha Thursday saw heated exchange of words between the Speaker and Congress leaders as the members of the Opposition party staged a protest in the well of the House for more than three hours seeking dismissal and arrest of Cabinet Minister Fauja Singh Sarari over an audio clip in which he was purportedly heard discussing ways to “extort” money from some contractors.
Setting the pitch for the day’s session, all Congress MLAs entered the House wearing aprons, which carried a photo of Sarari and had slogans against the minister.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa demanded action against Sarari who was present in the House.
A purported audio clip of an alleged conversation between Sarari and his former close aide, discussing ways to trap some contractors involved in foodgrain transportation through some officials “to extort money” from them had surfaced this month. Sarari, the minister for food processing and defence services welfare, had earlier categorically denied the charge.
Stating that mere issuing a notice to Sarari, as CM had earlier claimed, was not enough, Bajwa said, “We demand immediate dismissal of Sarari and a case be registered against him”. He also sought a statement from CM Mann on the issue.
Vidhan Sabha Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan, however, turned down the demand, saying that CM was not present in the House and that issues raised during Zero Hour do not warrant a reply or statement from the treasury benches.
He urged the opposition MLAs to let the proceedings continue, but the Congress members remained adamant on their demands and rushed to the well of the House, raising slogans against the government.
Bajwa said that the AAP government had earlier sacked minister Vijay Singla on corruption charges on the basis of some audio clip, which has till today not been made public but is adopting a different yardstick in connection with another minister, in whose case an audio clip has surfaced.
When Sandhwan’s plea not to disrupt proceedings of the House went unheeded, he adjourned the House for half an hour.
The stand off took place on a day when Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann gave the House sitting — second of the ongoing session — a miss, while the two BJP legislators, Ashwani Sharma and Jangi Lal Mahajan, boycotted the proceedings.
The three Shiromani Akali Dal members — Manpreet Singh Ayali, Dr Sukhwinder Sukhi and Ganieve Kaur Majithia — and one of Bahujan Samaj Party — Nachhatar Pal — were present in the House, but later staged a walkout moments after AAP MLA Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh raised the issue of Bargari sacrilege and subsequent police firing on protesters in October 2015.
Ayali, the SAD legislature party chief Ayali, later said, “We walked out as, we were not given any time to speak. Dr Sukhi wanted to respond on the issue of sacrilege and police firing cases.”
Meanwhile, throughout the sitting, there was heated exchange of words between Congress members and Sandhwan as Congress legislators kept on raising slogans against Sarari, AAP government and the Speaker.
When the House reassembled, Speaker expressed his displeasure over the conduct of the Congress legislators and accused them of wasting public money. Sandhwan Congress legislators have betrayed the trust of 2.75 crore Punjabis.
Cabinet Minister Aman Arora too took exception to the words used against Speaker and demanded an apology by Congress MLAs.
The Congress members again rushed to the well of the House. Ignoring appeals of the Speaker, the they kept shouting slogans prompting Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema to accuse them them of indulging in a drama and “running away from discussing burning issues of Punjab”
He said the AAP legislators listed 47 questions to be asked in the House, bu the 18 MLAs of Congress did not list a single question.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Inderbir Singh Nijjar moved a motion for the disqualification of Congress MLAs Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and Vikram Chaudhary for crossing the floor towards the treasury benches. However, the Speaker did not accept it
AAP members Sarvjit Kaur Manuke and Kulwant Singh Pandori moved a non-official resolution regarding the Scheduled Castes scholarships. According to the resolution, which was later passed, the House recommended the state government take appropriate steps to safeguard the interests of SC children.
As the Congress members kept shouting in the well of the House, Deputy Speaker Jai Kishan Rouri asked them to go back to their seats and let the discussion on the resolution go on. However, Bajwa who went back to his seat, asked Rouri to assure that a debate be held on the Sarari issue.
Rouri asked the Congress legislators whether they do not want to say anything on the issue of the SC scholarship for poor children.
Cheema took on the Congress and referred to the alleged scholarship scam that took place in the previous regime.
BSP MLA Nachhatar Pal said SC students were not getting degrees and sought action against those educational institutions which are not releasing degrees.
Independent MLA Rana Inderpartap Singh sought a regulator for higher education Manuke even called the Congress MLAs as “anti-Dalit” for disrupting the proceedings during the discussion on the SC scholarships.
Later, in a statement, Congress MLA Dr Raj Kumar said, “AAP government, by bringing the resolution in the House, itself accepted that even today, after six months of their governance in Punjab, SC students are still not getting their scholarship dues.”
AAP members Gurlal Singh and Devinderjeet Singh Laddi Dhose too moved a non-official resolution to promote sports on the lines of recently held ‘Khedan Watan Punjab Diyan’. Another resolution — recommending the state government to take effective steps in order to tackle the increasing pollution due to stubble burning — by AAP member Gurpreet Singh Banawali could not be taken up for discussion.