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Partha skips House reply citing rule

Calcutta, July 2: Minister Partha Chatterjee today cited an Assembly rule to steer clear of an oral reply to a question, the hair-splitting over a harmless academic topic in stark contrast with the administration’s reluctance to enforce laws under which Tapas Paul can be penalised for threatening rape and murder.

Education minister Chatterjee refused to give a verbal reply to CPM MLA S.M. Sadi’s question whether the government planned to set up colleges in 2014-15 and, if so, where. The minister cited the MLA’s absence from the House as the reason and said he would submit his reply to the Speaker. Sadi had left the Assembly earlier because of some urgent work in his constituency — Nadia’s Palashipara.

“Since the member is not present in the House, I shall place the answer on the table (Speaker),” Chatterjee said.

When Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra told the education minister that the Speaker had been intimated about Sadi’s absence and that another CPM MLA would accept the reply, Chatterjee instructed him to sit quietly. “Why are you not replying to a listed question when the Speaker has been informed about the change?” Mishra tried to reason.

Chatterjee, however, answered a supplementary question by CPM MLA Khagen Murmu, who was present in the House, on whether a college would be set up in Malda’s Habibpur. When the minister said “no”, Mishra immediately pointed out: “If you can reply to the supplementary question, why can’t you answer the main question?”

Mishra’s voice was, however, lost in the din by the treasury benches and the Left staged a walkout.

Speaker Biman Banerjee said later that minister Chatterjee had tabled the answer. “If the member who asks a question is not present, it is not compulsory for the minister concerned to give an oral answer. This is not a big issue. I don’t know why they (the Left) walked out,” he said.

Former Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim also said it was not mandatory for a minister to give an oral answer if the MLA asking the question was absent, but added: “If the Speaker wanted, he could have asked Chatterjee to reply.”

MLA Insar Ali Biswas, who had been given the responsibility of accepting the answer instead of Sadi, said tonight that the education minister could have “easily replied” to the question. “But the state government, of which Partha Chatterjee is an important member, did not act against Tapas Paul even though there were laws,” he added.

Lawyers had pointed out that the police could have used two sections of the law — Section 23 of the Police Act and Section 115 of the IPC — to start proceedings against Paul on their own.