Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Monday held a detailed discussion on exploring different ways of holding the ensuing monsoon session of Parliament so that social distancing norms can be followed to check the spread of COVID-19.
They took note of reports suggesting that the fight against coronavirus and COVID-19 disease is likely to be a long haul.
Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu convened a meeting in this regard at his official residence which was also attended by the Secretaries General of both the Houses.
Both the presiding officers underscored the need to adopt technology to enable Parliament sessions as a long term option to tide over situations when regular meetings are not possible.
They have noted that since there is no requirement of maintaining the confidentiality of the proceedings of both the Houses, which are open to general public besides being telecast live, virtual Parliament is an option to be explored.
With regard to the ensuing monsoon session of Parliament, they have directed the Secretaries General to examine the feasibility of using the Central Hall of Parliament appropriately to ensure social distancing.
The options to be considered include holding the meeting of Lok Sabha in the Central Hall with the Rajya Sabha shifting to the chamber of Lok Sabha and the sittings of both the Houses to be held on alternate days.
The two officials were also directed to examine in detail various technical and other arrangements to be ensured to enable smooth functioning of both the Houses.
Both the Secretaries General briefed the Presiding Officers regarding issues connected with the proposed virtual meetings of various committees of Parliament. These include providing a safe technological platform, complying with the rules of confidentiality of deliberations in such meetings and the difficulties in ensuring the same in case of virtual meetings, infrastructure upgrade to be undertaken to enable virtual meetings and the time likely to be taken in this regard etc.
Taking cognisance of the long existing rules regarding confidentiality in respect of meetings of the Committees and the implications of holding virtual meetings, Chairman Naidu and Speaker Om Birla opined that it would be necessary to refer the issue of virtual meetings to the Rules Committees of both the Houses.
Regarding the view expressed in some quarters that Presiding Officers can suspend the Rules, officials have pointed out that such suspension requires a motion to be carried in the House and Presiding Officers cannot supersede Rules by issuing directions.
Chairman Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Birla have noted that the Chairmen of various Committees of Parliament including the Department related Standing Committees are empowered to convene regular meetings of respective committees on their own.
However, in view of the feedback being received from some Members of Parliament about their inability to travel on account of quarantine norms in various states, they felt that it may be better for the Chairmen of various committees to convene meetings after ascertaining the likely attendance of Members.
Regarding attendance in the regular meetings of the Committees, officials have informed that the average attendance in the meetings of the 8 Department Related Standing Committees of Rajya Sabha over the last three years has been about 45%.
This in effect means that on an average, 14 of the 31 members of each committee attended the meetings.
With some newly elected members of Rajya Sabha conveying to Chairman Naidu, the difficulties involved in travelling to Delhi in view of quarantine norms, Chairman Naidu has deferred administering oath to the 37 Members elected unopposed, earlier planned.