Parliament: On Day 2, Oppn disrupts LS over Pegasus row, targets Centre over COVID management in RS

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Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya in Rajya Sabha said that if there is any underreporting of COVID-19 deaths, it is by the states and not the Union government

Parliament's Monsoon Session: Day 2 sees Oppn disrupt LS over Pegasus row, target Centre in RS on COVID

Monsoon session of Parliament. ANI

Day two of the Monsoon Session of Parliament continued to witness chaos with Opposition parties including Congress, TMC, RJD, DMK decided to raise the issue of Pegasus snooping reports in both houses. Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned till Thursday, 22 July as tomorrow is a holiday in view of Bakrid.

In Lok Sabha, the Pegasus snooping controversy continued to disrupt the House’s proceedings on Tuesday, leading to repeated adjournments of the House. Several members carried placards and sought the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

Meanwhile, in the Rajya Sabha, Opposition members criticised the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the government and the vaccination programme and said people were dying on the streets due to lack of oxygen, which they said is a matter of shame in the 21st Century.

Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday said that if there is any underreporting of COVID-19 deaths, it is by the states and not the Union government.

“Centre compiles and publishes the data sent in by state governments. Our work is to publish that data and nothing else. We haven’t told anyone to show fewer numbers (of deaths) or less positive cases. There’s no reason for that,” Mandaviya said during a discussion in Rajya Sabha. He also said that the resolution of people along with prime minister Narendra Modi’s guidance can save us from a third wave.

Earlier in the day, the Union health ministry said that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen during the second wave as specifically reported by states and Union Territories.

Here’s what happened in the Lok Sabha today: The Pegasus snooping controversy rocked the Lok Sabha proceedings on Tuesday, leading to continued disruptions and repeated adjournments of the House.

  • Soon after the House assembled at 3 pm, the Opposition members again started raising slogans on the Pegasus snooping issue, forcing the chair to adjourn the House for the day. The Lok Sabha will now meet on Thursday after the Eid holiday.
  • This was the second day of the Monsoon Session that the House could not transact any legislative business. On Monday, the Opposition had disrupted the proceedings over a variety of issues, including price rise and three farm laws.
  • Earlier in the day, the House was adjourned twice after the Opposition created a ruckus over snooping and other issues.
  • Opposition members, including from the Congress and the TMC, started raising slogans and showing placards to attack the government on the snooping issue as soon as the House met for the day at 11 am.
  • The proceedings lasted for barely five minutes. The same scene was witnessed when the House was reassembled at 2 pm.
  • One of the placards read that while people are suffering from unemployment, the government is busy with “jasoosi” (spying). The slogan was in Hindi.
  • Some Congress members were holding placards about Rahul Gandhi’s name appearing in the list of potential targets of snooping.
  • Trinamool Congress (TMC) members alleged that party MP Abhishek Banerjee’s phone number was selected for surveillance. Abhishek Banerjee is the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
  • YSRCP members also flagged the issue of special status for Andhra Pradesh.
  • Speaker Om Birla said it is not right to disrupt the House and the government is ready to give answers on any matter. “Please go back to your seats. I will facilitate a debate on every issue. (But) sloganeering is not right. The government is ready to debate on whatever issues you want to debate on,” he said.

The issue of “snooping” using the Pegasus spyware has snowballed into a massive political row in Parliament and outside as various parties are demanding a thorough investigation and sacking of Shah, while the government maintains that it had nothing to do with it.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, BJP ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, as also former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and poll strategist Prashant Kishor were among those whose phone numbers were listed as potential targets for hacking through the Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies, an international media consortium has reported.

Here’s what happened in the Rajya Sabha today: While participating in a short duration discussion on the management of the pandemic, implementation of vaccination policy and challenges of a likely third wave, the Opposition members of the Upper House questioned the government’s preparedness and suggested for better coordination with the state governments.

  • Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge said on Tuesday that the government’s COVID-19 toll figure of 4-5 lakh is “false” and conservative and claimed the average number of deaths cannot be less than 52.4 lakh so far in the country.
  • Participating in a short duration discussion on COVID-19 management in the Upper House, the Congress leader alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “failed” in tackling the pandemic and made former health minister Harsh Vardhan a scapegoat for the “mismanagement” of the health crisis.
  • Shantanu Sen of the AITC said that during the second wave, people were dying on the roads because of the scarcity of oxygen and this has happened in the 21st Century, which is a “matter of shame”. During Covid, the Centre took unilateral decisions and hands of state government were tied, he alleged.
  • Lancet, the oldest medical journal, WHO, Supreme Court and several high courts and even countries like Brazil, Canada and the UK have categorically criticised the Covid fighting policy of India. What can be more shameful incidence for us,” he claimed.
  • The prime minister has talked about one earth and one health policy and on the contrary, a few months ago, he talked about three prices for one vaccine, Sen said.
  • “In India, we have one price for Central Government, one price for state government and another for private sectors,” he said and claimed vaccine producing companies were not paid regularly and one of them has left India.
  • Amar Patnaik of the BJD, however, said the world is facing a pandemic after 100 years and no government was prepared for this. “We cannot politicise this handling of the pandemic because no one is wiser. The relationship between the Centre and states and the cooperation is of paramount importance,” he said, adding neither the Centre alone or the state governments can handle it alone, though health is a state subject.
  • Triuchi Siva of the DMK said that the people faced a shortage of oxygen and asked why the government had not contemplated this. “Had this MPLAD fund not been suspended, the 800 MPs would have taken up thousands of hospitals and provided funds for manufacturing of oxygen units,” he said while suggesting the government to hand over a high capacity vaccine manufacturing facility – Integrated Vaccines Complex (IVC) at Chengalpattu, near Chennai to the state government.
  • It was set up by PSU HLL Biotech and the Rs 700 crore unit is idle and unutilised because of lack of additional funds and the Tamil Nadu government would invite private parties to revive it, Siva said.
  • Elamaram Kareem of the CPI (M) raised his concern over the job loss during the pandemic. Citing data from CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), he claimed over 12.2 crore Indians lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown.
  • MV Shreyams Kumar (LJD) suggested that testing facilities need to be expanded before the beginning of the third wave. He also asked the government to vaccinate all students writing competitive exams like NEET. Besides, there is a need to speed up vaccination for children above 12, the member noted.
  • Kumar suggested a reduction in the financial burden of COVID hospitals through mass insurance schemes. The government should also look at aggressive containment measures just at the start of the third wave, he added.
  • Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party suggested the government to increase the spending on health from the current 1.2 percent of GDP to 3.5 percent in the next 3-4 years.
  • M Thambdurai of AIDMK also participated in the debate.
  • BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said: “In handling the pandemic the role of the State has become paramount. Whatever people have thought as how much the state should occupy in the economy and society, in these exceptional circumstances, they have become the driving force.” It also requires trust for the state to be the driving force, which needs to be established. This requires transparency and should not fudge figures and the statistical reportage must be authentic, he said.
  • JDU’s Ram Nath Thakur suggested an increase in the budget for healthcare in the country. He noted that the government should make preparations for tackling the expected third wave on a war footing.
  • Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) alleged the failure of the government machinery in taking appropriate steps during the second wave. He claimed that it was a collective failure of the governments from 1947 till now as no dispensation focussed on creating healthcare facilities to take care of such pandemic.
  • Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) also attacked the government accusing it of “inept handling” of the COVID situation in the country. He alleged that while the pandemic was spreading in the country, the government was busy sending vaccines and oxygen abroad.
  • Ashok Sidharth (BSP) said many government officials lost their lives in Uttar Pradesh as they were put on panchayat election duties.
  • Vandana Chavan (NCP) sought an enhanced rate of vaccination in states. She also suggested the swift development of vaccines meant for children.
  • Sushil Kumar Gupta (AAP) said that changing the health minister won’t serve the purpose as the entire government was responsible for the mishandling of the Covid situation in the country.
  • GK Vasan of TMC (M), Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar (TDP) and Balwinder Singh Bhunder (SAD) also spoke during the debate.

Also on Tuesday,  Modi asked BJP MPs to proactively counter the Opposition’s ‘misleading charges’ on the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and hit out at the Congress, saying it is in a coma and is unable to digest the BJP coming to power.

Addressing a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party, the prime minister said that the government was willing to hold discussions in both Houses of Parliament, but the Opposition was showing the most irresponsible behaviour.

Facing flak from the Opposition on his government’s response to the pandemic, Modi said that the COVID-19 crisis is not a political but a humanitarian issue and the government has ensured no one goes hungry.

He also asked the MPs to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccination drive is carried out smoothly in their constituencies.

With inputs from PTI

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