After having explored various options with regard to the modalities involved in convening Parliament during the COVID-19 pandemic, the format that appears to be gaining favour is the two Houses meeting in two different shifts on the same day, with more space being opened up by using visitors’ galleries to seat MPs, but no attendance through virtual means.
The monsoon session of Parliament could be convened in the first week of September, according to government sources. The view that appears to be crystallising after the several rounds of meetings between Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu is that the traditional format be stuck to as far as possible.
According to sources, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha would hold sittings in their respective houses, and they would meet in different shifts on the same day and not on alternate days as has been speculated. The options that had been explored but are now ruled out include the Lok Sabha being seated in the Central Hall and the Rajya Sabha holding its sittings in the lower house.
The Central Public Works Department has taken measurements in the two houses to work out a distance of six feet between members. The visitors galleries as also the lobbies leading to the two houses would be used to seat members so as to maintain social distancing, the sources said.
There will be no virtual Parliament or a hybrid session, in which some members will be physically present and others will join in through online means.
Visitors may not be allowed, and the number of parliamentary staff attending office on a given day could be limited.
The opposition parties have been demanding that the monsoon session be convened immediately to discuss issues of urgent importance, including the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis and the Chinese incursions in Ladakh.
The meetings of the parliamentary committees have provided the officials involved in making arrangements for sessions to get an idea of the do’s and don’ts that will have to be followed in the monsoon session to maintain social distancing and adhere to the safety protocols to avoid spread of COVID-19.
According to rules, there cannot be a gap of more than six months between two sessions. Article 85(1) of the Constitution states that “the President shall from time to time summon each house of Parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”
The budget session had ended on March 23, and so the monsoon session has to be scheduled to begin on or before September 19.