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Thursday, Dec 23, 2004

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Laughter in the House

G. Srinivasan

"IT IS nice to have laughter in the House," gushed the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, the veteran Parliamentarian who had threatened to resign only last week when the Opposition parties derailed the proceedings on the failure of the Railway Minister, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, to be present in the House to make a statement on the rail accident in Punjab.

It all began during Question Hour when the BJP member Mr Chandra Mani Tripathi was posing a query to the Union Health Minister, Dr Anbumani Ramdoss, whether the Government was aware of the sale in India of medicines banned abroad, by multinational companies with patent rights to such medicines.

The doctor-turned Health Minister was explaining that there are no globally banned drugs because what was banned in one country may not be in another; each has its own testing procedures centres, technical advisory boards and experts. He was citing the case of analgin, which is still allowed in India, though banned in Europe.

Then Dr Ramdoss emphasised that drugs could have different impact on individuals, and said, as an example, that "certain drug may be low metabolic on him (Mr Dayanidhi Maran, Union Communications Minister) or high metabolic on me." The Speaker intervened to ask, "Why on Maran? You could have chosen an old man like me." The House burst into a peal of laughter.

Again, when the portly BJP member Mr Tripathi was drawing attention to how certain anti-obesity drugs prescribed in the United States had reportedly triggered heart-attack, mental disturbances and other side-effects and asked whether the Government would consider banning them, the equally portly RJD member Mr Raghunath Jha retorted: "You have the medicine to reduce obesity."

An affable Mr Tripathi told Mr Jha, "you have already lost your mental balance and if you have this medicine, you will lose whatever is left." This prompted the Speaker to observe that Mr Tripathi might be saying this to Mr Jha in a lighter vein. Mr Tripathi said that Mr. Jha is "a old friend of mine" and hence he could "take a pot shot" at him even as the subject of potly structure was being discussed, again raising mirth among the members.

For a House riven by political differences occasionally spilling over to serious verbal duels and day-to-day distractions disrupting the proceedings, the humorous interludes among members served to lighten the atmosphere.

Even an otherwise stern-looking disciplinarian Speaker himself is prompted to acknowledge the softening effects of laughter to bruised ego and frayed tempers, which are the high-points of coalition experience in governance for the past eight years.

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