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COVID-19: Senior MPs keen on skipping Parliament

By R RAJAGOPALAN
September 11, 2020 14:25 IST
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With 200 MPs out of 785 above the age of 65, there is a serious shadow of COVID-19 looming over the monsoon session of Parliament, with several senior MPs expressing their concern over the large gathering at a single venue for 17 days.
R Rajagopalan reports.

IMAGE: The lawns at the Parliament complex being mowed during the coronavirus lockdown. Photograph: Prem Singh/ANI Photo
 

Some 15 members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu, who are above 65 years of age, are yet to inform Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla or the Lok Sabha secretariat if they will attend the monsoon session of Parliament which begins on September 14.

Birla has been trying to ascertain their presence from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's Leader of the House T R Baalu, who himself is 79 years old and faces many health issues.

The reason for the MPs's reluctance: The raging coronavirus pandemic, which shows no sign of abating either in Tamil Nadu, or in Delhi.

According to the Centre, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka account for 69 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the country.

The Tamil Nadu MPs are not alone. Many MPs from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal also have misgivings about attending Parliament when COVID-19 is rampant across the country.

Last week, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee directed her Trinamool Congress MPs over 65 years of age not to travel to Delhi.

Similarly, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked his Janata Dal-United MPs who are above 65 years of age to skip the Parliament session.

The Shiv Sena, it is learnt, has left the option open to its MPs.

Of the 38 Lok Sabha MPs from Tamil Nadu, those who are 70 and above are T R Baalu, S Jagathrakshagan, S S Palanimanickam, S Thirunavukkarasar, K Subbarayan, T R Parivendhar, S Ramalingam, A Ganeshamurthi and P R Natarajan.

They have been told by the Lok Sabha secretariat to leave for New Delhi only after taking due precautions and to carry COVID-19 negative certificates as on their departure date.

Looming large on the MPs's minds is the recent death of the Congress MP from Kanyakumari, 70-year-old Harikrishnan Vasanthakumar, of COVID-19.

Many MPs have not responded to e-mails or phone calls from the Speaker's office about their arrival schedule, while those who have replied that they are yet to make up their minds about attending the Parliament session.

With 200 MPs out of 785 above the age of 65, there is a serious shadow of COVID-19 looming over the monsoon session, with several senior MPs expressing their concern over the large gathering at a single venue for 17 days together.

They feel the situation is serious as seven Union ministers -- including Amit Anilchandra Shah and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat -- and two dozen MPs from both Houses had tested positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, the Lok Sabha MP from Varanasi, will turn 70 during the session, on September 17.

As many as 97 out of 240 MPs of the Rajya Sabha are above the age of 65, with 20 of them above the age of 80 -- including Dr Manmohan Singh (87) and A K Antony (82).

The data uploaded on the Rajya Sabha Web site as on September 8 says the average age of MPs is 63.3 years.

In the Lok Sabha, 130 MPs are above 65 years, including 30 who are above 75. One MP is 90 years old.

All those entering the Parliament complex will have to undergo the RT-PCR COVID-19 test and get a negative certificate.

However, many feel that managing more than 2,000 entrants, including security personnel, officials, journalists and others, for two weeks will be a Herculean task.

A minister in the Modi government said the air-conditioning system in Parliament complex is outdated and dangerous for health as it does not have an automatic ventilating system.

"No amount of masks and social distancing," the minister says, "can help.'

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R RAJAGOPALAN in New Delhi
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