There has been a growing clamour for holding a session of Parliament soon, alongside spiralling fears about the rising number of Covid-19 cases and concerns among MPs about travelling to Delhi.
A series of meetings have already been held with officials by the Vice President — who is the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha — and the Lok Sabha Speaker.
Top sources in the 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 other external locations like Vigyan Bhawan. Space constraints for staff and security arrangements for so many people including the Prime Minister could be major challenges. Officials tell us that in Parliament there is a dedicated gate for arrival and departure for the Prime Minister, Vice President and Lok Sabha Speaker, which may not be possible at Vigyan Bhawan that has just a couple of exits for all. Also, staff, ministers' offices, availability of other technical equipment including inbuilt translation systems in both Houses may be difficult to arrange at another location.
Another meeting was conducted on Friday by Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. He took feedback from the presiding officers of the House secretariat.
Secretary-general and other senior officials of the Rajya Sabha secretariat discussed with Naidu the best possible way to conduct the session in the Upper House.
The broad position that emerged was to enable seating of members of the Rajya Sabha in the chamber and the galleries of the House in conformity with the norms of physical distancing and to enable virtual participation of other members from either the Central Hall or Balayogi Auditorium in the Parliament premises.
It was suggested by the chairman that since the chamber and the galleries of the Rajya Sabha can accommodate 127 members while adhering to the physical distancing norm, galleries, except the media gallery, should be utilised for seating the members.
Seating of journalists in the media gallery would also be in conformity with the physical distancing norms for which guidelines would be issued separately.
It has has been felt that screens need to be arranged both within the chamber of the House and outside as required for viewing of member participation in debates, etc.
The Vice President 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 like preparing a list of the participants in the proceedings of the House for the day who would be accommodated accordingly.
Other important discussions also involved working out how question hour, voting on bills, oath-taking of newly elected members of the Rajya Sabha would happen keeping golden rules of social distancing, sanitising, etc, in mind.
Officers have been asked to frame an effective and workable plan including how members can be brought to the House and various sanitising points. 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 protocol in mind.
Top sources in the government have been contemplating on the possibility of the session. Although the session dates have to be decided by the Cabinet Committee for Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA), that meeting hasn't happened so far. A short or curtailed session, however, is being ruled out. 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 previous one. This means that 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 the CCPA and final approval by the Prime Minister.
While officers in the Rajya Sabha secretariat 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 its prerogative.