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At House panel meeting, BJP MPs oppose discussion on COVID-19 vaccines, variants

BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj. File.   | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

A meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology on Wednesday to discuss “vaccine development for COVID-19” and “genetic sequencing of coronavirus and its variants” saw high drama with the BJP members objecting to deliberations on these subjects, claiming that any investigation into it could demoralise the scientific community.

Walkout

Sources said the BJP members staged a walkout when Chairman and senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh refused to postpone the meeting as demanded by them. They argued that it was not the opportune time to debate the “vaccine development” since the country was still fighting the pandemic. They insisted that the question whether it was appropriate for the committee to discuss the matter be referred to the Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu.

Countering them, Opposition members asserted that 4 lakh persons have lost their lives and a forensic assessment of the pandemic was essential and urgent. AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, IUML’s E.T. Mohammad Basheer, CPI’s Binoy Viswam and other Opposition members vehemently called for the meeting to continue.

BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj demanded a vote to settle the dispute. Mr. Maharaj had written to Mr. Ramesh ahead of the meeting, protesting against the choice of the subject. A few other BJP members too, sources said, wrote to Mr. Ramesh on similar lines.

There were 11 BJP MPs and seven Opposition members. Mr. Ramesh, sources said, refused to hold a vote. “He argued that the meetings of a parliamentary standing committee are always conducted through consensus. There would be no vote, he said, “even if this is the last meeting I chair,” one of the members who attended the meeting said.

With the impasse continuing, Mr. Ramesh, the sources said, remained adamant that the meeting would not be postponed and he called for the witnesses who were waiting for nearly an hour. At this stage, the BJP MPs staged a walkout. A few of them returned to the meeting to hear the official.

Top officials participate

Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India K VijayRaghavan; Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology; and Director General of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) Dr. Shekhar C. Mande; and other officials participated in the meeting. Niti Ayog member and Chairman of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 Dr. V.K. Paul, who was also called as a witness, skipped the meeting.

During the last 90-minutes of the meeting, the members managed to ask a few questions, including why India’s genome sequencing is at a miserable 0.13 percentage as against the five percent target. So far, only genome sequencing of only 40,000 samples have been done. Now that technology transfer of Covaxin has been done to few other domestic manufacturers, questions were also asked on what will be the pricing for these new vaccines.

Ms. Swarup did not answer the questions raised by the members on the issue.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 12:28:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/at-house-panel-meeting-bjp-mps-oppose-discussion-on-covid-19-vaccines-variants/article34931730.ece

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