Punjab Vidhan Sabha speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal on Thursday set a precedent by allowing questions of Congress MLAs to be taken up in the House in their absence.
The opposition legislators are boycotting the ongoing budget session in protest against the suspension of nine of their MLAs over the March 13 ruckus in the assembly.
The speaker's initiative was backed by Akali MLAs. However, the speaker and the treasury benches were selective in choosing questions to be taken up in the House. While the House skipped many questions posed by the Congress MLAs, it took up only those which apparently suited them.
Concern over martyr Sukhdev's house
The Vidhan Sabha expressed concern over the dilapidated condition of martyr Sukhdev's ancestral house at Nau Ghara village in Ludhiana district.
The issue came up when the speaker allowed a question by Congress MLA Gurkirat Singh Kotli to be taken up, though the latter was not present in the House.
BJP minister Anil Joshi, too, supported the speaker, saying that the issue was important and should be taken up in the House.
Kotli wanted to know from Punjab cultural minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur what steps were being taken by the state government to maintain Sukhdev's house. The latter, along with Bhagat Singh and Rajguru, was hanged to death by the British government on March 23, 1931.
Phillaur, in his reply, said the state government had made provision of Rs. 3.24 crore for the maintenance and conservation of ancestral houses of Sukhdev and other freedom fighters.
"A technical consultant has been appointed to prepare the initial assessment report," Phillaur told the House, while giving an assurance that work on the dilapidated house would begin soon.
Maintenance of MLAs' flats
Another question in which Akali legislators took keen interest was about the maintenance of flats and hostel of Punjab MLAs in Chandigarh.
This question was also allowed to be taken up by the speaker in the absence of Congress legislators.
Congress MLAs Rakesh Pandey and Ajit Inder Singh Mofar both wanted to know from PWD (public works department) minister Sharanjit Singh Dhillon how much his department had spent since 2010 on the maintenance and upkeep of the MLAs' hostel and flats situated in various sectors of Chandigarh.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Harpreet Singh told the House that the condition of the MLAs' hostel and flats worsened during the rainy season due to seepage from the rooftops. The MLA said various departments of the Chandigarh administration were dealing with the repair and maintenance of these buildings. He said the Punjab government should take the matter in its own hands so as to facilitate regular repair, as being done by the Haryana government.
Dhilllon, in response to the question, said he would consider the suggestion and in case there was consensus on the issue, the Punjab government may contemplate taking charge of the entire repair of these flats and hostel.
When speaker 'prompted' Bhagat
Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal virtually acted like a schoolmaster before fumbling BJP minister Chunni Lal Bhagat during question hour.
Congress MLAs Bharat Bhushan and Rakesh Pandey, who were not present in the House, wanted to know from the local government minister what steps were being taken by the government to wipe out toxic waste from Budha Nullah in Ludhiana.
Octogenarian Bhagat seemed all at sea when he started reading out a fairly lengthy answer in Punjabi. It was here that the speaker came to his rescue. Like a schoolmaster, Atwal corrected several words and completed sentences spoken by the minister. This also saved time of the House and helped Bhagat finish his reply a bit quicker.