The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Monitor raps truant elders

New Delhi, Nov. 21: Thin attendance at a short discussion on drought, particularly the recent starvation deaths in Rajasthan, in the Rajya Sabha today invited the ire of House chairperson Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

The Vice-President, who was presiding over the session, expressed his displeasure.

“We should take business in Parliament seriously. The subject under discussion is serious, but there is thin attendance. Though the leaders of the House and the Opposition are present, a large number of MPs are absent,” he said.

The scene in the Rajya Sabha was similar to that in the Lok Sabha two days ago, when the House was debating an adjournment motion moved by the Opposition on Gujarat.

Rows of empty benches on both sides indicated that members — those who sought a discussion and those who had to respond to the motion — were not serious about it. In the post-lunch session, the attendance dropped further and a bell had to be rung repeatedly to rustle up a quorum. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan was seen rushing around summoning Treasury Bench members, who trooped in one by one.

In the Rajya Sabha today, it was left to the Vice-President to remind the MPs of their duties. But his plea seemed to fall on deaf ears. The discussion was lackadaisical with the MPs, particularly those from the two main parties, the BJP and the Congress, trying to score political points against each other on a serious issue.

Initiating the discussion, Congress legislator Moolchand Meena from Rajasthan denied that the deaths were caused by starvation. He repeated chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s argument that the deaths were caused by illness, not hunger, and laid the blame at the door of the Centre.

“The Centre is dragging its feet over the release of funds and food grain to the state. The state government is doing its best to help the people,” said Meena.

In reply, BJP legislator Sunil Shastri repeated Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s advice to the Lok Sabha members yesterday. “This is not the time to get bogged (down) in partisan politics. We need to take urgent steps to deal with the drought situation,” said Shastri. He, however, did not fail to take potshots at the Congress government in Rajasthan and said it should not dismiss the reports of starvation deaths.

The CPM joined the Congress in blaming the Centre of not doing enough to help the drought-affected states. Even BJP allies like the Telugu Desam Party lent voice to the chorus. C. Ramachandraiah pointed a finger at the Centre, saying its efforts were not enough as the lot of the farmers continued to be miserable despite a proliferation of schemes.

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