Punjab’s cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu today came under opposition attack in the state Assembly for allegedly making certain remarks, leading to commotion in the House. While replying to a question of Akali Dal MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu pertaining to a sewerage project, Sidhu attacked the previous government, accusing it of not making functional a single sewerage treatment plant (STP) out of 64 in the state during its 10-year-old rule. Taking exception to the criticism by the local government minister, Akali MLAs, including Ajit Kohar and Pawan Tinu, asked Sidhu to “stop acting, delivering dialogues and making political statements” in the House and instead do his job.
Tinu even accused Sidhu of misleading the House about the functioning STPs and complained to the Speaker that the minister was “not maintaining the decorum” of the House while replying to questions. After Tinu posed queries, Sidhu said he took action against SDO in Dera Baba Nanak for non-functional STP. While assuring Tinu that STP in his area would be made functional, Sidhu made certain remark directed at the Akali MLA, which angered the members of the opposition party.
Led by Tinu, SAD-BJP MLAs trooped into the Well of the House and raised slogans against the minister for using the “objectionable words”. They demanded apology from Sidhu, with Tinu, who is a Dalit MLA, sitting on the floor of the House.
Speaker Rana KP Singh assured the protesting members that he would go through the record of the deliberations and that action would be taken if any “abusive words” had been used. As the Question Hour continued amid the din, members of the Akali Dal and the BJP staged a walkout.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was not present in the House, conspicuous by his absence for the second day in a row. During the subsequent Zero Hour, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal again raised the issue of Sidhu’s remarks.
“Decorum of the House has to be maintained and such a treatment of the Akali MLAs is unwarranted. It is not acceptable. The Opposition must be given respect in the House,” he said. Leader of the Opposition and AAP MLA H S Phoolka said “some objectionable comments” were made against his party members too.
He dubbed the remarks against his party as “unfortunate” and demanded apology from Sidhu. Finance Minister Manpreet Badal raised the issue of frequent disruptions caused by the opposition in the House, leading to exchange of barbs between him and his estranged cousin Sukhbir Badal.
Congress MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa accused the Akalis of starting the tradition of disrespecting the Chair. Angered by this, the Akali members, led by Sukhbir, rushed to the Well of the House and raised anti-government slogans. Some papers were also hurled towards the Speaker’s Chair by the protesting MLAs.
In view of the unruly scenes, the Speaker adjourned the House, first for 30 minutes and then twice for 15 minutes each. Parliamentary Affairs minister Brahm Mohindra dubbed the incident as unfortunate and urged the members to leave their egos to run the proceedings. Later talking to the media, Sidhu said he had called Tinu ten times as “member sahib (respected member)”. “Then I said ‘Eho jehe’ (people like this while referring to Akalis) and they made a mountain out of molehill,” he said while denying making any castiest remark.
“The Akalis were talking about decorum when they themsleves violated the same many times while throwing papers towards the Chair and allegedly using unparliamentary words against Speaker,” Sidhu said. He added that this “drama” was not new to him and that it was created as the Akalis lacked answers for their “misdeeds”.
“For 10-year-old regime of deaf and dumb government (SAD-BJP), an explosion was necessary and I am doing the same in the House by exposing them,” he said. However, while replying to charge of AAP, Sidhu said he had just said why AAP MLAs were staging a walkout when none of their members sell “Chitta (drugs)”. Talking to the media, Sukhbir accused Sidhu of insulting a member of the Dalit community. “A minister of the government misbehaved with a SC member and called him names… We will take up the issue with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes,” he said. Tinu, along with another Dalit BJP MLA Som Prakash, accused Sidhu of having “anti-Dalit mindset”. Tinu also accused the Speaker of not listening to the opposition and siding with the treasury benches.