Violation of social distancing rules angers NA speaker

Updated Jun 06 2020

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The house was paying tribute to a member who died of Covid-19 and session was chaired by Qaiser who recently recovered from it. — APP/File
The house was paying tribute to a member who died of Covid-19 and session was chaired by Qaiser who recently recovered from it. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: On the first day of the National Assembly’s fresh session on Friday, the opposition called for threadbare debate on the Covid-19 pandemic, locust attack, sugar scam, air crash in Karachi and proposed contracting out of the airports’ management, as many of its members openly violated the social distancing measures adopted across the world to ward off cases of new coronavirus.

Speaker Asad Qaiser, who had himself contracted the virus, was chairing an assembly session for the first time since recovering from Covid-19. And the session was mainly devoted to paying tribute to MNA Munir Aurakzai, who died recently of the fatal disease.

Repeated violations of the social distancing measures in the house forced Mr Qaiser to express anger and at one point he threatened to wrap up the proceedings. “You don’t know what I and my family have suffered during this ailment. Please keep (a safe) distance from others; otherwise I will end the session,” he said when some MNAs went over to their colleagues’ seats to discuss one thing or another.

The house was paying tribute to a member who died of Covid-19 and session was chaired by Qaiser who recently recovered from it

Some members, including Sanaullah Mastikhail, expressed concern over non-availability of doctors in the building. As a result, they said, the members could not be tested for the virus before the start of the session.

A team of doctors deputed to the assembly had gone off to carry out tests of passengers arriving from abroad, they said. Talking to media personnel outside the Parliament House, Mr Mastikhail pointedly asked: “Is there only one team of doctors to conduct tests of the entire nation?”

Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party also complained about what he called the irresponsible behaviour of the members, and said: “Please realise how dangerous Covid-19 is. People are going to others’ seats. Please be careful, it’s a fatal disease.”

Earlier, MNA Khawaja Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said the assembly should hold debates on the five issues mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif in his letter to the speaker.

Mr Ashraf endorsed Mr Sharif’s views on behalf of his party.

Later, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said the government was ready to discuss all the issues mentioned by the opposition leader, including the sugar crisis, from Monday onwards. “It is because of Prime Minister Imran Khan that the sugar inquiry commission’s report has been made public,” he added.

Speaker Asad Qaiser announced that treasury and opposition members would hold a meeting before Monday’s session to decide which of the issues would be debated in the house.

During the proceedings the house expressed sorrow and grief on the passing of Mr Aurakzai. Many members praised the services rendered to the nation by the late MNA from tribal areas.

Mr Aurakzai was tested positive when he came to the house to attend its session held last month. However, he later produced a report from a private clinic that had cleared him.

After he was allowed to rejoin the session on the basis of the new report, he fell down in the assembly hall and was taken outside by some colleagues.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020