Concern was expressed in the Lok Sabha over continuation of strike by Air India pilots, with Opposition members targeting Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh for his statements outside Parliament indicating privatisation of the national carrier.
Launching a scathing attack on Singh, the Opposition threatened to bring a privilege motion against him for speaking on policy issues on civil aviation outside when the House was in session.
They also wanted to know what the government was doing to resolve the 8-day impasse with 71 pilots being sacked for their stir.
The protests, led by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, climaxed in adjournment of the House ahead of the lunch recess with the Opposition objecting to Singh's absence and asking Speaker Meira Kumar to direct the government to bring him to the House.
Swaraj joined the members of her party BJP, CPI(M), CPI and JD-U in saying that Singh's remarks to the media on policy matters like privatisation amounted to breach of "propriety of the House and hence its privilege".
She said even when Singh had not replied to a discussion on Air India and the ongoing strike in the House, "he is making statements on policy matters outside".
The Speaker said a discussion was already scheduled and the Minister would respond to them at that time. "How can I direct the government? If I receive a notice (of breach of privilege), I can look into it," Kumar said.
Permitting Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) to raise the issue in Zero Hour, she said she had rejected his adjournment notice.
Raising the matter, Acharia said Singh was making statements "clearly indicating" privatisation of Air India, a state-run
"Privatisation of a PSU is a policy matter. How can a Minister make a statement outside Parliament?" Acharia posed, demanding immediate revocation of the sacking of 71 pilots and initiation of negotiations with their union.
The CPI-M leader said a large number of flights were being cancelled, causing inconvenience to passengers. "We have earlier discussed the problems of merger of Indian Airlines and Air India and how Air India, a public sector unit, was deliberately made sick by the UPA-II government".
He said the company's problems were not being addressed and "the Minister's motive is to discredit the national carrier and then sell it..... All steps should be taken to revive Air India and not to privatise it."
Acharia was supported by former Civil Aviation Ministers Ananth Kumar, Shahnawaz Hussain (both BJP) and Sharad Yadav (JD-U), who also criticised the Minister for making policy statements through the media and sought that Singh be made to come to the House and clarify.
Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) said the Civil Aviation Minister was "speaking eloquently" in the electronic media and saying he was "against the merger, against (the country) having a national carrier and against the government running a service industry".
As several opposition members joined the Left and BJP to demand that the Minister be brought for a clarification, the Speaker adjourned the House till 2 pm.