Parliament session COVID-19 pandemic

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The monsoon session of Parliament, due to begin from September 14, will be held under most extraordinary circumstances. The paramount need to observe all the Covid-19-related precautions while members perform their regular parliamentary duties cannot be exaggerated. Though some members like P Chidambaram had sought an outright cancellation of the monsoon session, the fact that the Government feels confident enough to press ahead with it must stem from the special measures being taken to avoid the spread of the infection. Daily sittings are to be limited to four hours only. MPs will work even on Saturdays and Sundays. The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha will follow staggered timings, not sitting simultaneously. And for the very first time, members of one House will also occupy the seats in the other, in order to maintain necessary social distance. Every inch of space will be utilised to seat members, including the public galleries. Plexiglass screens will separate members sitting six feet apart in the Central Hall which will be closed to all others. In short, the logistics of a session in the time of the coronavirus would entail much hard work and innovation. Parliamentary galleries will be sanitised intensively and hand-sanitisers will be kept for MPs near their seats. To ensure that MPs seated outside the House proper do not miss the proceedings, sophisticated audiovisual arrangements will be in place in order for them to take part in real-time in the proceedings. Only a small number of MPs will be seated in the House — for instance, of the 245 members in the Rajya Sabha only 61 will find place in the House proper whereas others will be spread out all over the complex.

Since Zero Hour is retained, members will have the opportunity to raise controversial issues as before. Regardless of the extraordinary conditions under which the session is being held, there will be a lot of issues which could see the usual excitement, pandemonium and adjournments. However, among the first legislative measures that the MPs will be called upon to endorse is a 30 per cent cut in their salaries and benefits due to the economic stringency imposed by the pandemic. Several Bills to replace the ordinances issued during the inter-session period will come up for approval. Among these are the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance and the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance. The Covid-19 session is another indication that there is wide appreciation that the pandemic should not succeed in indefinitely disrupting normal life. Given the 25 per cent drop in growth in the first quarter of 2020-21, keeping the economy closed is no longer an option. MPs back in Parliament doing what they do best, sends out a message to the people that they too can work in these difficult times. This will be an encouraging sign. After all, the business of life must go on, Covid-19 or no Covid-19.

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