Amid a growing clamour for holding a Parliament session soon and a constant increase in coronavirus cases, Members of Parliament are concerned about travelling to Delhi if a call for the session does come through.
A series of meetings have already been held by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, the ex-officio chairman of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha speaker, in this regard.
Top sources in government, who have been in touch with the custodians of both Houses, have indicated that the upcoming monsoon session would be held in the Parliament complex and not at any external location such as Vigyan Bhawan. Space constraint for staff and security arrangements with so many people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would be an important matter of concern.
Officials told News18 that in Parliament there is a dedicated gate for arrival and departure for Prime Minister, Vice President and Lok Sabha Speaker which may be an issue in Vigyan bhawan that has just a couple of exits for all. The staff from ministers’ office, availability of other technical equipment, including inbuilt translation systems in both Houses, may also be difficult to manage at an external location.
At another meeting conducted by Venkaiah Naidu on Friday, he took feedback from presiding officers of the Rajya Sabha Secratariat. Secretary General and other senior officials of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat discussed with Naidu about the best possible way to conduct the session viz a viz the Upper House.
The broad position that emerged was to enable seating of members of Rajya Sabha in the chamber and the galleries of the House in conformity with the norm of physical distancing and to enable virtual participation of other members from either the Central Hall or Balayogi Auditorium in the Parliament House premises.
It was suggested by the Chairman that since the chamber and the galleries of Rajya Sabha can accommodate 127 members while adhering to the physical distancing norms, all galleries except the media gallery be utilised for seating the members.
Seating of media persons in the media gallery would also be in conformity with the physical distancing norm for which guidelines would be issued separately.
The officials said screens also need to be arranged both within the chamber of the House and outside as required for viewing of member participation in debates, etc.
Naidu has directed the secretariat to draw up appropriate plans for seating based on the strength of various parties in the House or any other effective criteria such as preparing a list of the participants in the proceedings of the House for the day.
Other important discussions involved working out how question hour, voting on bills and oath taking of newly elected members of Rajya Sabha would take place keeping in mind the current rules of social distancing, santisation, etc.
Officers have been asked to draw up an effective and workable plan, including how members can be brought to the House, various sanitising points etc can be fixed. It is also to be considered if the Parliament canteens, where many members, visitors and even parliament staff eat, can be kept open with set Covid-19 norms in mind.
Top sources in the government have been contemplating on the possibility of the session. The session dates have to be decided by CCPA (Cabinet Committee for Parliamentary Affairs), but the meeting hasn't taken place so far. However, a short or curtailed session is being ruled out as, according to sources, the government has important legislative business including a few ordinances that must be passed in the upcoming session.
As per the rules, any session must be held within six months of the last session. The monsoon session was abruptly adjourned because of Covid-19 scare. This means the monsoon session must take place before September 23.
The government may think of holding a two-week long session, starting from the end of August till mid September. This, however, will depend on the decision taken by CCPA and the final approval by Prime Minister Modi.
While officers in the Rajya Sabha Secratariat have been asked to firm up their plans in a bid to be ready to hold the session whenever it's decided, the final nod is awaited from the government as calling of the session is the government's prerogative.