To ensure that unlike the Monsoon Session that was cut short last year after over 40 MPs and several Secretariat staff tested positive for Covid-19, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said that the Parliament Budget Session will be held with all protocols in place.
After chairing a virtual meeting with the Union home secretary, AIIMS director, officials of the central public works department, health secretary and a host of other government officials to finalise preparations ahead of the session that is slated to begin on January 29, Birla said, “All precautions will be taken. Health of MPs and everyone else attending will be paramount.”
In the first half of the session, the Parliament will meet 12 times, while there are 21 sittings scheduled in the second half. The Rajya Sabha will function from 9 am to 2 pm and Lok Sabha from 4 pm to 9 pm, he said.
“Everyone entering the Parliament complex, including Members of Parliament, their families and staff, Secretariat staff and members of the media would need to undergo RT-PCR tests,” he said.
Upon being asked if MPs will be given priority for Covid vaccine, he clarified: “The vaccine distribution strategy has been worked upon by the Centre in coordination with states. We will all have to wait for our turn.”
During his Covid-19 review meeting with chief ministers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clarified that public representatives including MPs and MLAs are not on the priority list.
Unlike the Monsoon Session where Question Hour and Zero Hour were cancelled drawing sharp criticism from the Opposition, the government has decided to bring them back for the Budget Session.
An elaborate seating arrangement has been put in place enabling the lawmakers to maintain social distancing. The Central Hall will be open only to MPs. Their family or any other person will not be allowed.
The ITDC will take over the Parliament canteen, as all subsidies have been curtailed.
As part of the Covid-19 protocol, physical documents will be discouraged – Budget 2021 will be paperless. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s speech, however, will be printed, Birla added.
In 2020, the Parliament was in session for a total of 33 days, of which 23 were during the Budget Session and 10 during the Monsoon Session. Last year too, the Budget Session had to be adjourned before its scheduled date because of the pandemic. Subsequently, a nationwide lockdown was announced by the Centre in March.
The Monsoon Session was curtailed at least a week ahead of its schedule in September last year after close to 40 MPs and nearly 400 secretariat staff tested positive. Delhi has also reported a huge spike in coronavirus cases since Diwali.