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If it’s for food, MPs will work

- Meal carrier row after canteen shift

New Delhi, Sept. 1: Political battles may have left Parliament virtually non-functional but that doesn’t mean the MPs have lost their appetite for all business.

And when it comes to the key business of their meals and snacks, the members and ministers are all fighting on the same side.

At the receiving end is the central public works department (CPWD), which recently got the canteen shifted from Parliament House to the annexe, some 500 metres away, arguing that storing 50-odd gas cylinders in the main building was a fire risk.

The Lok Sabha secretariat — whose decisions are taken by the Speaker in consultation with ministers and MPs — had agreed reluctantly to the shift. But as soon as Parliament reopened on August 8, the Lok Sabha secretariat ordered CPWD officials verbally to send men and utensils to carry the food from the annexe to the main building.

Since the canteen shift, pre-cooked meals are being served at Parliament House in cardboard and thermacol boxes because the multiple security clearances require the food to be brought well in advance. The Lok Sabha secretariat has asked the CPWD to provide 22 men and big food containers, whose total cost would be nearly Rs 2 lakh.

“We told them that since the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) is running the canteen, they should take care of the logistics,” a senior CPWD official said. “We don’t have the budget for providing manpower and utensils.”

After two weeks of stalemate, the Lok Sabha secretariat wrote a stinker to the CPWD director-general on August 23, demanding a written explanation from the chief engineer in charge of the Parliament complex. Coincidentally or not, the chief engineer was transferred out of Parliament House within a week.

“The transfer was purely for administrative reasons,” urban development secretary Sudhir Krishna said.

When the CPWD requested the canteen shift sometime in June, the MPs and ministers had initially pooh-poohed the idea. They changed their mind after the June 21 Mantralaya fire in Mumbai killed two persons, injured 16 and destroyed 2,000 computers and 4.8 crore pages of documents.

But they put their foot down on the CPWD’s larger proposal: to shift Parliament itself by constructing a new building because Parliament House needs restoration.

The MPs nixed the idea, probably fearful of the expenditure at a time anti-corruption crusaders have targeted the entire political class. Urban development minister Kamal Nath plans to float global tenders seeking a consultant to suggest ways of restoring the building without shifting Parliament.

BJP SHIFT HINT

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, whom Sonia Gandhi had called on Friday, has set cancellation of coal block allocations and an independent probe as the conditions for discussions. Sushma did not specifically mention the demand for the Prime Ministerís resignation in a tweet, which is being seen as a significant shift from the BJPís position so far. The BJP denied suggestions of a climbdown but sources said this could be the beginning of a concerted attempt to break the Parliament deadlock. The developments coincided with suggestions from the government that some licences could be cancelled within a fortnight if companies have not cited credible reasons for delay in mining coal.


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