Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha objected to Chemicals and Fertilizer Minister M K Azhagiri quietly leaving the House just before a question on his ministry came up in the House. It was left to be answered by Minister of State (MOS) for Chemicals and Fertilizer Srikant Jena.
Azhagiri, who doesn’t speak English, is believed to have issued instructions to officers in his ministry to brief Srikant Jena for the reply in the House, sources in the ministry said.
Perhaps eyebrows would not have been raised if Azhagiri was not present in the House or sat next to the Minister of State while the MOS answered the question. The fact that Azhagiri sat three rows behind the MOS and left just before the question pertaining to his Ministry was taken, prompted the Opposition to lambast him.
Najma Heptulla (BJP)) sought to know from Chairman Hamid Ansari whether Azhagiri and Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was also not present when questions about her ministry were asked, had given notice to him about their absence.
The Opposition’s criticism led to an altercation with members belonging to the ruling alliance.
BJP deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha S.S. Ahluwalia raised a hue and cry, saying cabinet ministers should be present in the House when questions relating to their respective ministries are taken up.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said “if ministers are absent from the House, they normally send a notice. But he walked out before answering the question”.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prithviraj Chavan said it did not matter whether the question was replied on behalf of the government by a cabinet minister, deputy minister or minister of state. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad supported his Chavan’s stand, saying there was no rule that a Union minister has to be present in the House to answer questions.