The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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House ready, minister missing
- After snub, Mrinal apologises for delay

Calcutta, July 24: A packed Assembly was ready to debate the labour budget, the Speaker was in the chair to set the ball rolling, but the House had to be adjourned instead.

Guess why' The minister was missing.

Labour minister Mrinal Banerjee, who arrived 12 mi-nutes late, said some 'urgent' work had held him up.

The discussion had to be suspended for around 40 minutes.

When the House resumed at 11.40 am, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim said: 'It (your absence) was a gross insult to the House'. You were informed earlier about the timing of today's business and it was your duty to be present in time.'

'The House deserves an apology,' he added, as Banerjee sat speechless, head down.

Halim went on: 'Remember, people voted for you because they wanted you to be here. They have the right to see you working.'

The ruling Left Front, which won by a landslide ' 235 out of 293 seats ' in the elections, too, got a snub. 'Don't be overconfident for the large number of members you have'. It is your duty to be punctual even if there is a single member on the Opposition benches.'

An embarrassed Banerjee stood up and said: 'Sir, I'm sorry. I arrived in the Assembly at 11.12 am because I had got stuck with urgent work. But I will not cite this as an excuse for my delay.'

Opposition leaders said there had been no such occasion in the recent past when the House had to be adjourned because of a minister's absence.

'This is unprecedented,' Manas Bhuniya, the leader of the Congress legislature party, said later.

The Speaker, though, saved Banerjee ' also the power minister ' further ignominy, saying there have been such instances in the past.

'It is a glaring example of the government's callousness. Banerjee's act also shows the level of commitment of important ministers to the people,' Bhuniya added.

In his reply to the budget discussion, Banerjee admitted that many industrial units across the state were still causing pollution.

The list of Banerjee's admissions continued: 'Industries are not complying with labour laws regarding registration of migrant workers, fixing of working hours, payment of overtime and allowances and maintenance of safety standards at the workplace'.

Opposition members urged the government to appoint a minister exclusively for the labour department.

'It is not possible for a single person to manage two important departments together,' said Trinamul Congress's Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay.

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