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Social distancing throws spanner in holding monsoon session of Parliament

By Archis Mohan
June 10, 2020 13:36 IST
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Officials have said the national capital lacked a convention centre big enough to seat so many MPs and adhere to social distancing norms. Additionally, holding a 'virtual session' looks slims as any change in the rules requires a motion to be carried in both the Houses of Parliament.

IMAGE: A gardener wearing a face shield mows the lawn at Parliament house during the government imposed nationwide lockdown. Photograph: ANI Photo

As Covid-19 infection cases spike in the national capital, the prospect of holding the monsoon session of Parliament receded further.

At a review meeting held on Tuesday to study the various options, officials conveyed to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla that the national capital lacked a convention centre big enough to seat so many members of Parliament and adhere to social distancing norms.

 

At the end of the meeting, Naidu and Birla asked officials to examine if “virtual participation” of MPs in the proceedings of both the Houses was possible. But, this could require amending the ‘Rules of Business’, which only Parliament can.

According to officials’ assessment, none of the three chambers in Parliament -- the Central Hall, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha -- nor the plenary hall of Vigyan Bhawan are large enough to accommodate hundreds of MPs under one roof and also ensure social distancing norms.

The monsoon session of Parliament usually takes place for a month from the third week of July to the second week of August. According to the Constitution, the President should summon each House within six months of its previous sitting, which makes it mandatory for Parliament to meet at least twice a year. Three sessions are held in a year. It is not necessary for the two Houses to meet simultaneously.

The Budget session ended on March 23. This would mean both the Houses would need to meet before the third week of September. Sources said Naidu and Birla, as presiding officers, are doing their job of reviewing preparedness, and it would be for the government to take a call on whether or not to postpone the session.

The secretaries-general of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha told Naidu and Birla that the Rajya Sabha Chamber can at best accommodate about 60 MPs if distancing norms are followed. Rajya Sabha has 245 members.

They said the Lok Sabha Chamber and the Central Hall are adequate for a little over 100 MPs. They said even if MPs were to be accommodated in the galleries, the total seating capacity would be much lower than required. The Lok Sabha has 543 MPs.

Officials also pointed out the other limitations if the Central Hall and Vigyan Bhawan were to be used for the session, like non-availability of air-conditioning during the day in the Central Hall.

Sources said the air-conditioning in the Central Hall is patchy, and it is also not equipped with simultaneous interpretation service.

Another option discussed was to enable attendance in the chambers of both the Houses of only those many members who can be accommodated if social distancing norms are followed. This would be done by drawing up lists of such members whose participation in items of business is required on a daily basis.

According to sources, Naidu and Birla asked officials about maximum capacity available for enabling virtual participation, and its feasibility according to the ‘Rules of Business’ of both the Houses and other technical issues.

Similarly, the prospect of holding virtual meetings of parliamentary committees also look slim. Officials told Naidu and Birla that any change in the rules concerning such meetings required a motion to be carried in both the Houses of Parliament.

In recent days, opposition parties have demanded holding of the monsoon session to discuss the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh and Sikkim, issues of migrant workers and the economic situation in the country.

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Archis Mohan in New Delhi
Source: source
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