The Opposition parties created a ruckus in the Lok Sabha on Thursday and stalled the proceedings for some time over the absence of Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers M.K. Alagiri during question hour.
When Mr. Alagiri's deputy — Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers Srikant Jena — started replying to a question, Yashwant Sinha (BJP) wanted to know the whereabouts of Mr. Alagiri. “Where is the [Cabinet] Minister? We have not seen his face. Who is he?”
Members from the AIADMK, the CPI, the CPI (M), the Janata Dal (United), the RJD and the SP joined him and demanded a response from the government. This caused embarrassment to the treasury benches. Some in the Opposition benches shouted “shame, shame.”
As the DMK members stood up and defended Mr. Alagiri, who is the son of DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee said Mr. Alagiri was on a visit abroad. Normally the Cabinet Minister remains present in the House but the practice is that a junior Minister can reply to the questions as per Lok Sabha rules.
But the Opposition members did not relent. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj charged Mr. Alagiri with being “perpetually absent” from Parliament. Mr. Alagiri's first duty should be towards Parliament and should take permission from the Speaker for allowing his deputy to reply to the questions.
But for the last one year Mr. Alagiri was not answering questions and, according to her information, he was not attending Cabinet meetings either. “He cannot absolve [himself of] his responsibilities. When will he come back to the House? Ms. Swaraj asked.
Mr. Mukherjee denied that Mr. Alagiri was “perpetually absent” from Parliament. Speaker Meira Kumar said she had authorised Mr. Jena to reply to the questions.
Sources said Mr. Alagiri had gone to the Maldives after taking permission, including from the Prime Minister's office, and he was likely to attend Parliament proceedings on Friday.
There were reports earlier that the Minister personally met Meira Kumar a few months ago and sought her nod to answer questions in Tamil as he was more convenient in that language. It is said the Speaker is yet to decide on the matter.