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Masks debut in Rajya Sabha

New Delhi: Opposition Rajya Sabha members on Wednesday demanded curtailment of the ongoing budget session, which is due to end on April 3, in view of the novel coronavirus scare, but the government seemed unwilling.

In a first, the Rajya Sabha saw a few members wearing face masks as protection against the coronavirus, but the same was objected by Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu who said it was against the rules to wear any masks inside the House.

Four Trinamool Congress MPs came to the House wearing face masks. The party’s MP Derek O’Brien wore a black-colour mask while his deputy Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, who said they were following the government advisory in wearing the masks, wore a white one.

However, when senior Congress leader P Chidambaram urged Naidu to allow MPs to decide on using protective gear depending on their perception of vulnerability, the chair agreed.

Congress and other Opposition MPs suggested that the budget session be curtailed to practice social distancing being advocated by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus disease).

While Congress’ M V Rajeev Gowda  urged the government to either curtail or postpone the remaining sittings of the Budget session, his party colleague Anand Sharma said the government was preaching social distancing but is not following it in Parliament.

“It is a matter of concern that when we are advising everyone to practice social distancing, Parliament is continuing to function. We should be setting an example to the rest of the country and preventing it,” Gowda said.

“We meet people from everywhere across the country and we are probably most at risk within Parliament, and the House of Elders with extremely senior people are also at risk,” he said.

“The virus does not know that we are MPs. The virus does not care about MPs,” Gowda said.

Sharma said while the entire country is being asked to practice social distancing, “if we do not do it here, it does not make any sense.”

Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, however, opposed any curtailment saying the House has to show the resolve to fight the infection.     “Showing any panic will not be in the national interest.”

He went on to quote Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the need to show resolve to fight the coronavirus.

Naidu said the entire Parliament Complex has been sanitized and hand sanitizers have been kept at various places.

“I cannot simply respond to you on my own behalf. After all, it is the decision of the government and then of the House,” he said on pleas for curtailing the


Two sanitizers were also placed inside the House as well.

Immediately after reading out the obituary reference to the passing away of former member Puttappa Patil, Naidu said no masks are allowed in the House and asked four TMC members, who were wearing them, to go out and remove them.

“No masks are allowed inside the House. Please remove. You are all senior members and you know the rules, regulations about the conduct of the House. Please. Otherwise, you know what I will do,” he said.

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