In the first eruption of the monsoon session of Parliament on Friday, Speaker Om Birla had to adjourn the Lok Sabha for half an hour after a fierce spat broke out over provocative remarks by minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur.
The House had to be adjourned further for an hour by presiding officer Rajendra Agrawal as the Congress members repeatedly walked into the well to protest, while Speaker Om Birla worked in his chamber to bring peace among the warring groups.
When the House re-assembled at 6 PM, Thakur apologised saying he had no intent to hurt anybody and Congress group leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who had slammed him as a "Chokra from Himachal," agreed that the session being held in the difficult times of pandemic should continue without unnecessary fights. Peace restored, the House then discussed and passed the supplementary budget.
The row broke out on the issue of the PM-CARES Fund, which was floated to raise money to tackle the pandemic; during introduction of the Taxation and Other Laws Bill Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman answered some of the objections by the opposition members and then left the floor for her junior Thakur to address the rest.
Thakur made some disparaging remarks against the Nehru-Gandhi family while speaking in defence of the PM-CARES Fund, which the Opposition criticised for lack of transparency. When Speaker Om Birla restrained him from giving a long speech and told him to keep his batteries dry for the actual debate on Saturday or Sunday, Thakur insisted that he be allowed to speak at least for half an hour.
"You rushed to courts, but from the High Court to the Supreme Court, each has validated the PM-CARES fund. Little children have contributed to it from their piggy banks," Thakur said.
He, however, provoked the Congress members who shouted not only in the Lok Sabha chamber but also from the Rajya Sabha chamber and the galleries when he said: "Jawaharlal Nehru set up a fund (Prime Minister's National Relief Fund -- PMNREF) in 1948, but it has not been registered to date. As against this, the PM-CARES is a registered trust. You (Congress) only made a trust for the benefit of the Gandhi family. You made Sonia Gandhi its chairman. It should be investigated."
While the verbal slanging match was on, the Opposition members accused the Speaker of being lenient to the ruling benches. Spearheading the attack on the Speaker was Trinamul Congress member Kalyan Banerjee, a lawyer by profession, who questioned him for restraining the opposition members from completing their speech but allowed those from the ruling benches like Thakur to speak on irrelevant matters, at length. Instead of punishing him, the Speaker went on the defensive to note that he is impartial in his handling of both sides.
It was the turn of the BJP benches to create a ruckus after Congress group leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury hit back at Thakur: "Who is this boy from Himachal? Where has this Chhokra come from? How did Nehru come into this debate? Did we take Narendra Modi's name?" Tempers ran high when the Speaker opted to better adjourn for half an hour till 5 PM as 90 minutes had been frittered away in the unsavoury row.
During his defence of the PM-CARES Fund, Thakur said: "Opposing PM Cares Fund, just for the sake of it, is akin to opposing EVMs & then losing elections. They subsequently termed ‘Jan Dhan’, demonetization, ‘Triple Talaq’ & GST as bad. They find defect in everything...."
He was responding to Congress member Manish Tewari, who said: "Since the PM CARES Fund has the name of the institution of the Prime Minister attached to it, wouldn't it have been more appropriate if this fund would have been created through legislation rather than as a public trust."