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Parliament in Covid: Alternate workdays, sheets to separate rows

Parliament is expected to meet in September for the first time since March. According to the plan, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will take turns to work -- either as morning and evening shifts.

MPs to be spread across the chambers, galleries.

When the country’s lawmakers get back to business in the midst of the Covid pandemic, it will be to a very altered workspace.

After exploring a number of possibilities, presiding officers of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have almost agreed on a fully physical model for conducting the Monsoon session of Parliament. Parliament is expected to meet in September for the first time since March. According to the plan, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will take turns to work — either as morning and evening shifts, or by working on alternate days. Of the Lok Sabha’s current strength of 542, 168 members will be seated in the Lok Sabha chamber, and the others distributed across the Lower House’s galleries, the Rajya Sabha and its galleries.

Similarly, sources said, the 241 members of the Rajya Sabha will be spread across the chambers of the Upper and Lower Houses. Although 76 people can be accommodated with physical distancing in the Rajya Sabha chamber and galleries, the front rows, which are deep and could be risky for some of the Elders, are likely to be avoided.

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Also, each of the rows in the Lok Sabha will be separated by polycarbonate sheets to ensure adequate physical distancing. With fewer members, Rajya Sabha is unlikely to use these sheets, sources said.

Large screens will be placed for the convenience of members seated in galleries and other chambers, with microphones for each member at their seats. Every intervention and statement will be relayed in both the chambers and the galleries.

The finer details of which MP will sit where is being worked out, sources said. The seating plans will be based on the strength of various parties in both the Houses, they said.

Sources said the presiding officers of both the Houses had considered proposals on holding virtual sessions, before agreeing on the current plan. The National Informatics Centre, which provides cyber infrastructure for the Indian government, had offered to develop an app through which members can securely register their votes.

Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu had even proposed that the 500-odd NIC centres in districts across the country could be used by the MPs to remotely participate in the session from their respective constituencies. However, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla seemed to have a preference for a physical session, sources said.

The possibilities of a remote session were explored keeping in view that many Parliaments across the world have been conducting their meetings on virtual platforms. “It’s more futuristic too. We cannot rule out virtual sessions in future and India could be a model for others,” said a source familiar with the developments.

Congress MPs had sought permission to hold Parliamentary panel meetings on virtual platforms. The last sitting of Parliament was on March 23, so the House is required to be in session within six months, that is, before September 22.

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