Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, 57, played a key role in conducting the Monsoon Session of Parliament, even as many raised apprehensions about attending the House in the middle of a pandemic. He urged all MPs to take Covid-19 tests and in the House often asked them to keep wearing masks. While the Session was cut short after many MPs tested positive for the coronavirus, Birla said that the Lok Sabha recorded “historic productivity” with, on an average, 370 MPs attending the House daily.
What precautions are you taking to stay Covid-free?
As a vaccine for Covid-19 is still not available, taking precautions is the most effective way to protect oneself from infection. I have been following the guidelines and advisories issued by the Union government and other agencies. Wearing mask, social distancing, cleaning my hands frequently have all become part of my daily routine now.
You might have observed during the Monsoon Session of Parliament as well that I was repeatedly requesting all members to have their masks on at all times.
Have you got yourself tested for Covid-19?
Yes, I got myself tested before the commencement of the Monsoon Session.
Have you had to isolate yourself?
No. I got myself tested only to ensure that everybody around me is safe (in Parliament). I advise everyone to take adequate steps to stay healthy and get the Covid-19 test done as soon as symptoms begin to appear. Those affected must also isolate themselves.
What kind of gloves and mask do you use?
I use masks which meet the required standards. It is a bit uncomfortable to use them but they are absolutely essential for saving lives.
While interacting with people at work, what precautions do you take?
I try to do most of my work on the phone or virtually. However, being a representative of people, I cannot isolate myself completely from them. Whenever I meet people in Delhi or my parliamentary constituency (Kota-Bundi, Rajasthan), I make it a point to ensure social distance.
Have you had to stay away from family since the outbreak?
Fortunately, I stay in Delhi with my family. Having said that, people of Kota-Bundi are also my family. I try and stay in touch with them and meet them whenever possible.
I have been in touch with my constituents through teleconferencing, audio conferencing, and other such modes of communication. We are going through difficult times, and it is very important to stay in touch with the people of my constituency. I consider it my responsibility.
Do you take any specific precautions while you travel?
During the lockdown period, I did not travel at all. Once the un-lock phase started, I travelled to my constituency. I followed all the specified safety protocols on the trip.
How much time do you spend in front of a screen?
Virtual communication has definitely increased since the Covid-19 outbreak. I have also been relying on it to carry out my day-to-day work. So far, I have attended more than 100 national and international programmes virtually. I have been communicating with the people in my constituency and attending office meetings online as well.
How do you keep your mind off the pandemic?
During the pandemic, I have never let negativity cloud my mind. I continued to work actively with a positive frame of mind. I interacted with people, undertook administrative work of the Lok Sabha and supervised preparatory work for the Monsoon Session.
I also went through the proceedings of the previous Lok Sabha sessions and the rulings given by my predecessors. I like to read. Reading inspires me, fuels my creativity and motivates me to remain positive.
What is the first thing you want to do when the pandemic is past?
I pray that the pandemic ends soon and the world becomes free from Covid-19 infection.
I hope that this happens at the earliest so that life can return to normal and economic, social, political and other activities can move forward around the world and in India too.
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