By SM .14 Sep, 2020
NEW DELHI: An 18-day monsoon session of parliament started today with unprecedented precautions against the coronavirus, including staggered sittings of both houses and social distancing between MPs.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his traditional comments before the parliament session, delivered a strong message on the China border stand-off. "We hope parliament and all members will unitedly send the message that the nation stands with our soldiers," PM Modi said.
A resolution for no Question Hour was passed this morning. "It"s and extraordinary situation. When assemblies aren"t ready to meet for a single day, we - with around 800-850 MPs - are meeting here. There are so many ways to question the government, government isn"t running away from discussion," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said in Lok Sabha. Defence Minster Rajnath Singh suggested Zero Hour can be used to question the government.
An all-party meeting was not held this time because of the coronavirus outbreak, the government said on Sunday. There will be four-hour sittings and parliament will function seven days a week. Only written questions and answers will be allowed, which has hugely upset the opposition. "Question Hour is the golden hour but you say that it can"t be held due to the circumstances. You conduct the proceedings but single out Question Hour. You are trying to strangulate the democracy," Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said today in Lok Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha will function from 9 AM to 1 PM, the Lok Sabha for 3 PM to 7 PM. Only on the first day, the Lok Sabha is meeting in the morning session. Instead of the Question Hour, un-starred questions will be laid on the table, the government has said.
There will be 11 bills replacing a slew of ordinances issued since March, when parliament was adjourned indefinitely in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Days later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the countrywide lockdown.
The bills that will replace ordinances include the Farmers" Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, one of regulation of support prices, one on Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the new rule on taxation and the salaries and allowances of MPs and ministers.
The new bills that are to be brought in include three on labour laws that concern provident fund, insurance, maternity benefits, industrial disputes and trade unions and industrial safety and welfare laws.
The session, the first since the outbreak of coronavirus, is being held amid huge safety measures at the parliament building complex. The measures include seating MPs in a staggered way in chambers of both Houses, as well as galleries to maintain physical distancing, introduction of mobile app for registering of their attendance and seats separated with poly-carbon sheets in the House.
At least seven union ministers have contracted the disease and two dozen MPs are recovering from it. An MP and several MLAS have died. Around 200 of the 785 MPs are above the age of 65 years, the population vulnerable to coronavirus.
Ahead of the session, all members were requested to get themselves tested for COVID-19 and one of them tested positive. "Requesting all those who have come in close contact with me in the last few days to monitor their health and get tested in case of any symptoms," tweeted the BJP"s Sukanta Majumdar.
Union Minister Amit Shah, who recently recovered from coronavirus, was admitted at Delhi"s prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences on Saturday night. The hospital said it was a complete medical checkup ahead of parliament"s monsoon session.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi will not attend the first part of parliament"s monsoon session as she has left the national capital for her annual check-up abroad. While Mrs Gandhi will remain out of the country for at least two weeks, her son, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who is accompanying her, is expected to return after a few days.