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Puff all you want, but not in House

New Delhi, July 4: The young have come and snuffed out the puff.

Hate their guts or admire their health consciousness, a few veterans will return to Parliament House tomorrow and find all is not as it used to be.

Former Speaker P.A. Sangma will not be able to light up his favourite 555s in Parliament — the offices, the Central Hall or the lobbies and corridors. Neither can any smoker, be it industrialist Vijay Mallya, minister without portfolio K. Chandrasekhar Rao — Benson and Hedges for him — or the Left’s Nilotpal Basu and Abani Roy, who prefer the desi Wills Filter.

Persuaded by health minister Anbumani Ramadoss, an ardent environmentalist, and the Congress’ industrialist MP Navin Jindal, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee today announced a ban on smoking in Parliament.

The missing ashtrays in the Central Hall and the lobbies would be a clear signal from Monday to about 50 to 60 lawmakers and bureaucrats, mediapersons and securitymen that the cancer sticks are a no-no.

Moreover, cigarettes would not be on sale in the inner corridor canteens.

The duo had raised the issue as early as the brief four-day session after the general elections. They pleaded for enforcement of the smoking ban that came into force countrywide this May.

“I have asked the Speaker to see that the smoking ban is implemented in one of the most hallowed institutions of the country,” Jindal was quoted as saying on June 8.

While non-smokers like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and MPs Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul might take deep breaths of relief, chain-smokers are not happy.

When Jindal approached the Speaker last month, RSP leader Roy confessed it would be difficult not to smoke.

“I have been a smoker for a long time and it is not just smoking but an accompaniment in intellectual exercise.”

Some leaders apparently pleaded today that “without smoking (once in a while) some MPs cannot speak in the House”.

Despite the contrary noises, an all-party meeting today decided to enforce the ban after Chatterjee placed the proposal. “We have now decided that Central Hall and the lobbies will be smoke-free from tomorrow,” the Speaker said after the meeting.

Both Roy and CPM leader Basu conceded they would have to adjust if a law they themselves had helped pass is enforced in Parliament.

But they have wangled a concession — a smoking room. Mallya made the suggestion at the meeting and it was accepted. As in many international airports, a small smoking chamber may be set up in Parliament for the tobacco addicts.

Zero hour telecast

The meeting today also unanimously decided proceedings in the House during zero hour would be telecast live. Chatterjee, who mooted the idea, said it was part of his efforts to bring transparency and accountability in the proceedings.

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