Updated: December 21, 2021 9:10:48 am
A rare occurrence took place in Lok Sabha on Monday — the House could pick up all the starred questions listed for oral answers. The reason: 14 questions were not taken up for supplementary as members against whom the queries had been listed were absent, including nine BJP members.
The questions listed were related to nine departments, including Finance, Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Tourism, Culture and Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
Due to the absence of so many members, the Speaker called out 20 questions listed for oral replies before 11.45. With Opposition MPs protesting in the well of the House, demanding the resignation of Union minister of state Ajay Mishra, the Speaker then adjourned proceedings till 12 noon.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a strong exception to the absence of many BJP members from Parliament and on December 7, while addressing the BJP parliamentary party meeting, given strong warning to his party leaders, asking them to “change yourself or there will be changes”.
On Monday, BJP’s chief whip in Lok Sabha Rakesh Singh — who himself was not present to take up his question — said the party has taken the matter seriously.
“The members come and attend the House if there is an important bill. But its true that the members should be present in the House throughout because people have elected them for that. They should be regular, especially after the Prime Minister advised us to attend the House diligently. We are keeping an eye on this, and the parliamentary affairs minister and I are trying to find a solution to it,” Singh told The Indian Express.
Singh said he was in the House but had stepped out for some work just before his name was called out. “I rushed to the House but my question number was already called out. I requested the Speaker, but the practice is that one would not get the chance if he or she misses it when the speaker calls,” Singh said. “I am regular in the House, I have not missed my attendance on a single day in this session”
Others not in the House included Sukanta Majumdar, Vinod Kumar Sonkar, L S Tejasvi Surya, Sanganna Amarappa, Sunil Kumar Singh, Raksha Nikhil Khadse, P P Chaudhary and Sanjay Jaiswal.
The absence of many members of the BJP was pointed out by the Congress’s Gaurav Gogoi, who had put forward question 318 on the depletion of forests. Amid protests by the Opposition, Gogoi, who chose to not pursue his query, was seen pointing towards the treasury benches and asking the Speaker, “Where are the BJP MPs? Where have they gone? Not a single BJP MP is present to ask the question.”
The thin presence of party MPs in Lok Sabha, despite the Prime Minister’s warning, seems to have surprised many senior leaders, some of whom have privately admitted it.
According to records in the party office in Parliament House, the number of BJP Lok Sabha MPs who signed the attendance register on December 6 — a day before Modi’s warning — was 240 while the records in the Lok Sabha website shows the total number of the MPs signed on that day was 344.
These figures improved only marginally over the next few days — on December 7, 250 BJP MPs signed the register while the total of MPs who recorded their presence was 386, while on December 8, the figures were 261 BJP MPs (366) and December 9, it was 262 BJP MPs (365).
Party leaders pointed out that the attendance register does not reflect presence in the House. For example, on December 8, from 11-11.30 am, there were only 60-75 MPs present at the BJP benches while the number went up to 85 afternoon. However, as per a senior party leader, when the House took up the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021, there were more than 100 party MPs present.
Singh, the chief whip, admitted that the absence of BJP MPs inside the House is a matter of concern. “Some members have taken permission to go to election-bound states… But its true that attending the House is important and it is a matter of concern. We will check how many MPs were present each day and will prepare a list. We have a database on it, but it needs to be addressed. We are taking it seriously,” he said. “The elections in five states are a big reason for their absence.”
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