The prospects of a routine session of Parliament have come under question with existing government buildings found inadequate to accommodate all MPs if COVID-19 physical distancing norms are to be followed, according to highly-placed sources.
With neither the central hall of Parliament nor the Vigyan Bhawan plenary hall large enough to seat all the MPs while maintaining a minimum distance of one meter, the presiding officers of both houses are learned to have been exploring options of holding a ‘hybrid’ session of Parliament or a virtual one, the sources told PTI.
The hybrid session would allow some MPs to be present physically in Parliament with the remaining ones attending it virtually. The sources said one of the options discussed is to enable attendance in the Chambers of both the Houses of only those many members who can be accommodated according to social distancing norms by drawing up lists of such members whose participation in various items of business is required on a daily basis.
The monsoon session of Parliament is normally held in the month of July. At a meeting convened by Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, the secretary generals of both houses are learned to have told the presiding officers that neither the central hall nor the Vigyan Bhawan plenary hall has a seating capacity to accommodate all MPs together.
The meeting was convened to review various options for holding the ensuing monsoon session of Parliament. Briefing Naidu and Birla on various possibilities, the secretary generals reported the outcomes of their assessment of seating capacity in the Chambers of both the Houses, the central hall of Parliament, and the plenary hall of Vigyan Bhawan.
They informed that while the Rajya Sabha Chamber can accommodate about 60 members as per the norms of social distancing, the Lok Sabha Chamber and the central hall are adequate enough for a little over 100 members.
They said even if the members were to be accommodated in the galleries, the total seating capacity would be much less than the required if all members were to be accommodated. Naidu and Birla directed the two top officials to examine in detail various issues related to enabling the virtual participation of members in the proceedings of both houses.
This includes the maximum capacity available for enabling such virtual participation of MPs, the feasibility of enabling the participation of members as per the rules of business of both the Houses and other technical issues. Regarding virtual meetings of the parliamentary committees, it was explained that any change in the rules concerning such meetings required a motion to be carried in both the Houses of Parliament.
The Parliament officials also informed the presiding officers of certain other limitations if the central hall and Vigyan Bhawan were to be used for the session. These included the non-availability of the air-conditioned facilities during the day in the Central Hall and problems of enabling simultaneous interpretation service.