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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Monsoon, Covid session begins today, Govt lines up several Bills

The government is preparing for a business-like session with almost two dozen bills lined up for consideration. But the Opposition has expressed reservations over many of the proposed laws, and asked for debates on a number of contentious issues.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: September 14, 2020 7:23:01 am
Monsoon, Covid session begins today, Govt lines up several BillsOn Sunday, Speaker Om Birla called a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) to discuss the agenda for the session that concludes on October 1. The BAC was called because the customary all-party meeting that precedes Parliament’s sessions has been scrapped.

A historic 18-day session of Parliament begins on Monday with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the implementation of a range of first-time measures and the exclusion of several significant conventions.

The government is preparing for a business-like session with almost two dozen bills lined up for consideration. But the Opposition has expressed reservations over many of the proposed laws, and asked for debates on a number of contentious issues.

On Sunday, Speaker Om Birla called a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) to discuss the agenda for the session that concludes on October 1. The BAC was called because the customary all-party meeting that precedes Parliament’s sessions has been scrapped.

An Expert Explains | What are Question Hour and Zero Hour, and why do they matter?

At the meeting, which was attended by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi and Minister of State Arjun Ram Meghwal, the Opposition, led by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress, demanded discussions on the ongoing tensions along the LAC in Ladakh, the problems of migrant labourers, and the Covid situation.

The government said it was ready for discussions on every issue.

The meeting decided that after the obituary references to members who have died since the last session — including former President Pranab Mukherjee — the government will on Monday introduce The Salaries, Allowances and Pensions of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill 2020, and The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020.

The government is learnt to have suggested that the discussion on the Covid situation could be held on Tuesday, during the debate on The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill.

In response to the Opposition criticism of the scrapping of Question Hour and curtailment of Zero Hour, the government is learnt to have argued that the decision was taken in view of the pandemic situation and the shortened session. The Opposition also objected to the move to suspend MPLADS funds; Opposition members are likely to close ranks to oppose this decision.

“There are many important issues on which we want discussion. The Chinese aggression, the government’s management of the Covid pandemic, the slump in the economy, job losses, and the unemployment situation are among the key issues,” Chowdhury, who is leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, told The Indian Express.

“At the BAC meeting, I told the government and the Speaker that the issues that the Opposition wants to raise and discuss should be accommodated. Of course, the government’s legislative business is there. We are ready to cooperate with the government, but at the same time, we will not leave these issues at any cost. The BAC will meet again on Tuesday to identify which issues should be taken up,” Chowdhury said.

On the business side, the government will have to get the Ordinances issued since the last session replaced by laws. Some 11 Ordinances have been issued since March, including those on the salaries and allowances of Ministers and MPs, epidemic diseases, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, and the three agriculture-related Ordinances that have triggered farmers’ protests in Haryana and Punjab.

The Congress has announced that it would oppose the three farm Bills that will be brought to replace the Ordinances. According to the list of business on the Lok Sabha website, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar will introduce the first of these Bills, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 on Monday.

In Rajya Sabha, the Left has given notices on statutory resolutions disapproving the farm Bills. The Upper House is expected to take up Bills that have already been passed by Lok Sabha, including The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill.

Rajya Sabha is also scheduled to elect a new Deputy Chairperson. The BJP on Sunday issued whips to its members to be present in both Houses.

The pandemic has delayed the Monsoon session, which usually meets in July-August. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will work in separate shifts.

Lok Sabha will sit from 9 am to 1 pm on the first day, and thereafter from 3 pm to 7 pm. Rajya Sabha will sit from 3 pm to 7 pm on the first day, and thereafter from 9 am to 1 pm. Weekends will be working days.

There will be special seating arrangements to ensure physical distancing among MPs. In Lok Sabha, seats have been divided with polycarbonate sheets, and members will be seated in the chambers of both Houses and the galleries.

Secretariats of both Houses have said members will be provided with parliamentary papers, including Bills and Ordinances, electronically in order to check the possible spread of infection.

– With inputs from Manoj C G 

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