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Govt offers PM briefing on Covid to floor leaders; come to House: Opposition

The government's offer, which comes amid severe criticism over its handling of the second wave of the pandemic, was announced by Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi at an all-party meeting convened by the Centre on Sunday.

Written by Liz Mathew , Manoj C G | New Delhi |
July 19, 2021 4:12:40 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay after the all-party meeting in Parliament on Sunday. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

ON THE eve of the Monsoon Session, while the government said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would brief floor leaders on Tuesday on the Covid-19 situation and its vaccination programme, the Opposition rejected the offer, saying he should address the issue on the floor of the House.

The government’s offer, which comes amid severe criticism over its handling of the second wave of the pandemic, was announced by Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi at an all-party meeting convened by the Centre on Sunday.

Alleging a “highly irregular” move to “bypass” norms, the Opposition questioned the need to hold a briefing outside the House at a time when Parliament would be in session.

“We have not got any invitation, but why should there be a separate closed-door meeting when Parliament is in session?

Whatever the government has to say should be said on the floor of the House. The people of our country are entitled to know what is what. So don’t think about hoodwinking them. What will you tell us? You will bring some experts, and show some charts. What is the point in telling five or six leaders… the 140 crore of our country should know …they are entitled to know. When the House is in session, why are you shying away? Why are you evading the House,” Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told The Indian Express.

“Parliament is in session. Come meet us on the floor of the House. Members have put in notices to discuss Covid and other issues. There can be adjournment motions, there can be short duration discussions…. we have to use parliamentary procedures. We can’t write a new Modi manual for Parliament. Why call just 50 MPs from 25 parties? What happens to the other 750 MPs? We reject the proposal completely,” said senior Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien.

“MPs do not want fancy powerpoint presentations on Covid-19 from the PM or this government in some conference room. Parliament will be in session. Come to the floor of the House,” O’Brien tweeted.

“It is highly irregular for the government to do this. When the Parliament is in session, any address or presentation the government wants to make, it has to be done from inside Parliament. Our stand on this has been very clear,” said CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

When Opposition leaders raised the issue at the all-party meeting, Joshi is learnt to have said that they could seek a response from the Prime Minister during the debate inside the Houses.

The government’s offer, of a “presentation” on the Covid-19 situation and its vaccination programme, comes amid severe criticism over its handling of the second wave of the pandemic. With the party and the government tacitly admitting that the collapse of the health infrastructure during the second wave had dented its image, there have been several attempts to salvage the situation.

During the recent Cabinet expansion, the Health Ministry was among those which saw a major change, with its senior minister, Harsh Vardhan, sacked, and its Minister of State, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, shunted out.

The revamping of the council of ministers, with 36 new faces being inducted, was seen as a move to improve the government’s image as well as an attempt to nurture and energise the sectors hit by the pandemic – from health and education to labour, civil aviation, IT and petroleum.

In an indication of what to expect during the Monsoon Session, the all-party meeting on Sunday saw a combative Opposition accusing the Treasury benches of not debating sensitive issues of national importance.

After the meeting, which was attended by around 40 leaders representing 33 parties, Joshi said Modi assured the Opposition that the government was ready to discuss every issue raised as per rules and procedures. The Prime Minister said suggestions from public representatives, especially the Opposition, are valuable as they enrich the discussions, the minister said.

Besides the pandemic, the Opposition leaders also raised other issues like the farm Bills, price rise — especially of petrol and diesel, and the situation on the India-China border.

A number of leaders, including Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, talked about the government’s reluctance to discuss sensitive issues in Parliament. He also talked about “lack of time” to push for issues of national importance.

His party colleague, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, expressed concern over not having a Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha even after two years.

RSP’s N K Premachandran said that Parliament had become an institution to only transact the business of the government. “Sensitive national and political issues are not discussed on the floor of the House — be it fuel price rise, vaccination or Chinese aggression at the borders. We should find time to discuss them,” he is learnt to have said.

SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur spoke on the contentious farm Bills. The SAD has been trying to mobilise regional parties to demand a repeal of the farm laws.

The floor leaders of all prominent Opposition parties, including TMC’s Derek O’ Brien and Sudip Bandyopadhyay, DMK’s T R Baalu and T Siva, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and BSP’s Satish Mishra attended the meeting.

Modi was flanked by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal, and Joshi. “We look forward to a productive session where all issues can be debated as well as discussed in a constructive manner,” Modi later tweeted.

Meanwhile, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla also met leaders of parties in the lower House of Parliament in the morning.

The Monsoon Session of Parliament, which begins Monday, is scheduled to conclude on August 13.

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