The absence of Chemicals and Fertilizer Minister M. K. Alagiri in the Lok Sabha today caused fresh trouble to the government.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj accused the Minister of being “perpetually absent” from the House and complained that the members have not seen his face though the current Lok Sabha will be completing one year.

She asked whether Mr. Alagiri, who is abroad, had taken permission from Speaker Meira Kumar for being away during the session.

“Our information is that he (Alagiri) does not attend even the meetings of the Union Cabinet,” she said, amid strong support from her party colleagues, members of JD-U (Janata Dal-United) and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam).

Defending Mr. Alagiri, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee refuted charges that the Minister was perpetually absent. At the same time he said that Mr. Alagiri was currently out of the country.

“He is a regular member and it is not true that he has never come... Normally the Minister remains present but the practice is that a junior minister can reply to questions as per the rules of the Lok Sabha,” Mr. Mukherjee, who is also leader of the House, said.

The issue came to the fore when Opposition members objected to the Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertiliser Srikant Jena answering the questions asked to Mr. Alagiri.

While Mr. Mukherjee said the junior minister was quite competent to reply to questions, the Speaker observed that she had allowed the junior minister to reply.

This is not the first time that Mr. Alagiri has landed in such a problem as the Opposition had earlier also objected to his junior replying on his behalf during the Question Hour.

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