Plastic shields, MPs seated in galleries Parliament’s new normal

National News, News

New Delhi: Glass-like plastic shields of varied sizes were installed in front of benches to protect members from Covid- 19. The shield also covered part of the members’ sides. The usual hustle and bustle was missing in the Parliament complex on the first day of the 18-day Monsoon session in the wake of restricted entry.

In a first, the chambers of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were used along with the galleries to seat members of each House which met at separate timings to ensure social distancing. The Monsoon session of Parliament commenced on Monday amid extensive Covid-19 precautions, with a large number of members attending the proceedings while adjusting to the changes spawned by the epidemic. Lok Sabha convenes in the morning from 9 AM to 1 PM, while Rajya Sabha held its four-hour sitting in the afternoon starting 3 PM. The Lok Sabha secretariat said 359 members attended the proceedings on Monday. With two vacancies, the current strength of the Lower House is 541. The attendance in the 243-member Rajya Sabha was also impressive but no exact number was available.

Around 30 MPs and over 50 employees of Parliament have tested positive for Covid-19, sources said. Many of them tested positive after undergoing compulsory Covid- 19 tests at the parliament premises before the start of the Monsoon session, while several of them had undergone tests in their respective constituencies.

The government also introduced some bills, including three related to the farm sector in Lok Sabha. The NDA Government is set to bring 23 new bills, including 11 to replace ordinances, and as many as 20 old bills are pending in both houses. The opposition also sought to bring the issue of Chinese aggression at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but was not allowed so by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.

While several Lok Sabha MPs were seated in the galleries and Rajya Sabha chamber, some Rajya Sabha members were asked to sit in the chamber of the lower house. Both the houses adjourned for an hour after obituary references to former President Pranab Mukherjee and some sitting and former members who died recently. Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said Parliament is meeting in extraordinary and challenging times due to the Covid-19 crisis.

He urged the MPs to make the Monsoon session “memorable” by enhancing productivity and responding to the expectations of “anguished people” who are keen to breathe normally and reclaim their social and economic space. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said this is perhaps for the first time that such an arrangement had been put in place where members of the lower house were seated in the upper house.

Birla said members do not have to stand while speaking as part of the new procedures put in place to contain the spread of Covid- 19. Members participated in debates while sitting on their numbered seats. Special podiums were placed for members, who were sitting in the galleries meant for visitors and VIPs, to speak as there is no mike facility there. The Speaker said rules have been eased to allow Lok Sabha members to sit in Rajya Sabha and similarly Rajya Sabha members can occupy seats in the lower house to ensure distancing during the session of the upper house.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan made a statement in the House on the novel Covid- 19, saying the central government undertook the Covid-19 challenge with the highest level of political commitment. It has been estimated that its decisions prevented approximately 14-29 lakh cases and 37-78 thousand deaths, he said.

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