Lucknow, Aug 20 (PTI) The brief monsoon session of the Uttar Pradesh Legislature began under strict COVID-19 protocols on Thursday with obituary references for its present and former members including two ministers who succumbed to coronavirus. It was a record of sorts on the first day as lawmakers occupied visitors' galleries and mediapersons kept away in order to maintain social distancing norms. In the Legislative Assembly, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath paid tributes to 20 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the Galwan valley on June 17 and 'COVID warriors' who died while serving the people.
The house made obituary references for ministers Kamal Rani Varun and Chetan Chauhan, who died due to COVID-19, its former member and Governor of Madhya Pradesh Lalji Tandon, two sitting members Virendra Singh Sirohi and Paras Nath Yadav and former members.
Leaders of all the major parties -- Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Apna Dal -- also paid tributes and the house was adjourned for the day after observing a two-minute silence. In the Legislative Council, Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma led the house in paying respect to the departed souls.
According to the office of the Assembly Speaker, 290 MLAs were present in the House, while 23 MLAs were virtually present in the 403-member state Assembly.
The state legislature which is meeting for a brief three-day session is following all necessary COVID-19 protocols and the members and staff of the Assembly and Council were seen wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. The adjoining seats of the ones occupied by members were seen blocked with white bands while the press gallery and VIP galleries remained empty. Arrangements were made for the legislators to sit in the 'Yes' and 'No' lobbies. Each lobby can accommodate 30 legislators.
Never ever in the past did the majestic high-domed Assembly chamber looked so empty as law makers occupied alternate seats in the hall while some were perched in galleries meant for visitors -- an arrangement to ensure social distancing. Though the monsoon session will have only three sittings, a lot of meticulous planning went into the arrangements, especially the new seating system, long before the session began. Speaker Hriday Narain Dixit ensured that all members were tested for COVID-19 before taking part in the proceedings.
Due to the mandatory testing, Minister Chaudhary Udaybhan Singh was found to be COVID-19 positive and admitted to the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences here.
Coronavirus tests were also carried out on 600 staff members of the Assembly on Monday and 20 of them tested positive for the virus. At an all-party meeting in the run up to the session, the Speaker had said, 'MLAs who are above the age of 60, any woman MLA who is unable to come or if any MLA is unwell, then they can make a request to the office either in writing or through telephone. We will not mark them as absent.' Dixit had asked the leaders of all the legislature parties to convey this message to their MLAs. The Speaker said that COVID-19 testing centres would be established near the residences of the MLAs. Dixit hoped that the Opposition members would not move into the well of the House and that they would abide by social distancing norms. 'They have assured us,' he told PTI. Before being allowed to enter the house, the MLAs were thermally scanned. 'If they do not come wearing a mask, we will give them one,' the Speaker had said. 'I have requested former MLAs that they should not come to the Vidhan Bhawan during the session,' he said. The Uttar Pradesh government had issued an advisory for mediapersons on Wednesday saying journalists coming to cover the session must have their COVID-19 test done.
However, they would not be allowed to take their seats in the press gallery, but have access only up to the Tilak Hall, where they can see the live telecast of the proceedings, it said. PTI SAB NAV SMI RHL