(Eds: Recasting intro) Bhubaneswar, Nov 18 (PTI) Odisha Assembly Speaker S N Patro on Wednesday said that the 40-day winter session of the House will commence from November 20 and sit for truncated hours in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic without the Question Hour.
The Question Hour, during which lawmakers ask questions to the government on key issues, was scrapped in the monsoon session of the House too.
At an all-party meeting convened by the Speaker ahead of the session, opposition parties such as the BJP and the Congress wondered what is the harm in holding the Question Hour if the Assembly could conduct other businesses maintaining COVID-19 protocol.
As on the earlier occasion, all the persons including MLAs will have to test negative for COVID-19 in order to get an entry into the Assembly building during the session, Patro said.
A special counter has been set up on the Assembly premises on Tuesday for collection of samples of lawmakers, officials and journalists to be tested for coronavirus.
The Speaker said, 'Like the previous monsoon session, there will be no Question Hour. The House will function for four-and-a-half hours every day in adherence to all COVID-19 protocols.' During the 40-day session, proceedings will be held on Saturdays and Sundays, he said.
Elderly MLAs will have the option of taking part in the proceedings via video conference from various places.
The Supplementary Budget will be tabled on the first day of the session after making obituary references to several former members including ex-Speaker Sarat Kar, COVID warriors and others, Patro said.
Lawmakers will be provided with seats in the visitors' gallery and the Speaker's gallery and there will be a fibre shield between seats of two members to maintain social distance.
The Speaker said that no papers will be distributed among members in the House except those of urgent nature such as amendments to Bills and reply of ministers.
The discussion on Demands for Grants will be held on November 26, 27 and 28 and that on the Appropriation Bill on the First Supplementary Statement of Expenditure for 2020 on November 29.
Patro said that entry passes will be issued to representatives of the press, while lobby passes will be issued only to members.
The Health and Family Welfare Department will provide mask, face shield and sanitiser to MLAs, officials and journalists before entering the Assembly Hall, Patro said.
On the scrapping of the Question Hour, Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingha Mishra said it was undemocratic.
Leader of the Opposition P K Naik of the BJP also said that his party was not supporting the idea of suspending the Question Hour.
The two opposition leaders said that they will raise issues such as drinking water woes, inadequacy of doctors and teachers, 'deteriorating' law and order, hike in power tariff and 'irregularities' in the procurement of paddy and COVID-19 kit.
The Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation will sanitise the Assembly hall and the premises every day during the session.
Meanwhile, two newly elected BJD leaders - Swarup Kumar Das (Balasore) and Bijay Shankar Das (Tirtol) took oath as members of the Assembly on Wednesday. The Speaker administered the oath to them. PTI AAM NN NN NN NN