Parliament of India as defined under Article 79 of the Constitution of India is a body comprising the President of India and Houses to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of People. It is a place where the representatives of the people of India discuss various issues and come upon conclusions and decisions for the problems faced by the country. The last session of the Parliament this year (2020) was held on March 24, 2020. The session was the “Budget Session”.The next session is expected to be before September 23, 2020. On June 3, 2020, the “Standing Committee” meeting of Home Affairs was called off as the members were not to attend the meeting due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Strategy of other Countries
The Parliament of the United Kingdom, the mother of all Parliaments had adopted a strategy to conduct sessions whereby at a time only 50 members could be allowed in the premises and the rest others can join virtually while sitting in their constituency. The Canadian Parliament came up with a similar kind of approach where the Members of Parliament join in virtually through the online meeting app – Zoom. Though there had been questions related to Zoom’s privacy. Also, the Canadian Prime Minister had claimed that around 30 Members of Parliament meet each Wednesday in person to discuss issues.
The Parliament of America had put certain guidelines for their Members of Parliament to follow to attend the sessions physically. Dr Brian Monahan, which carries the suggestions for senators and visitors for dealing with Covid-19 in offices had also issued a seven-page letter. The letter carried the suggestions to avoid gatherings, stagger schedules and advised all to bring meals from their homes to avoid crowding at dining places. They also advised it to install sneeze guards wherever possible and to change the layout of the offices to avoid physical contact.
The tale of Corona Virus & Dushyant Singh
Dushyant Singh, Bhartiya Janta Party MP, attended a party, where Kanika Kapoor (Singer) was also invited. Later, Kanika Kapoor was tested positive of Covid-19. Dushyant Singh after attending the party met various MPs and even the President, Ram Nath Kovind over breakfast at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Other Members of Parliament attending the same breakfast meeting was Union minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, BJP MP from Mathura Hema Malini, Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, Congress’s Kumari Selja, and MP Mary Kom. Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien said that he was sitting next to Dushyant Singh during the meeting of the transport standing committee. Further, Aam Aadmi Party member Sanjay Singh, Congress leaders Deepender Hooda and Jitin Prasada had also gone into self-isolation.
Though later, Dushyant Singh wasn’t tested positive for coronavirus. Hence, none were infected because of this incident.
Corona & Parliamentarians of India
Recently, on 2nd August 2020, Amit Shah, Home Minister of India was tested positive of Coronavirus. He was last present in the meeting of the cabinet where the new Education Policy (NEP 2020) was approved. Though, the meeting strictly followed the social distancing norms. Later, the Minister of State for Environment – Babul Supriyo tweeted informing everyone that he met Amit Shah recently and he is planning to go into isolation.
Other Members of Parliament who were tested for Coronavirus are:
- Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa – tested positive for Coronavirus
- Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit – tested positive for Coronavirus
- Uttar Pradesh Minister Kamal Rani Varun – died because of Coronavirus
- Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan – tested positive for coronavirus
- BJP Rajya Sabha leader and former Congress general secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia – tested positive for coronavirus
The Construction of new Parliament of India
In 2015, Sumitra Mahajan wrote a letter to then Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu. The letter was to initiate measures for the construction of a new Parliament building. She believed that the existing building was in distress and there is a need for a new building for handling the growing demands for in the future. She also mentioned that the number of staff, security personnel, media visitors,etc., within the existing Parliament building has increased since it was commissioned.[I] Therefore, the proposal to come up with a new Parliament building was passed.
With every pros comes certain cons and here too in this project, while there is a need for the new building due to space concerns in the old building, this can’t be opposed that the new construction will take up a huge amount of money, which India could have invested in the Healthcare system aiding many patients during the times of Covid-19. One can also see this as a wasteful expenditure as any new construction should not be treated as the priority. But what is important to note here is that the new building will help the Parliament and it’s Houses to function enabling the social distancing norms required in Covid-19.
The strategy of the Indian Parliament
It is important for the Parliament of India to meet before 23rd September 2020 because according to the constitutional provisions, there cannot be a gap of over six months between two sessions of Parliament. The last session which the Parliament had was the Budget session on 23rd March 2020. Certain ordinances are to be replaced by an Act soon. Therefore, the physical presence of members is essential.
The Indian Parliament will only be able to accommodate one-third of the total strength of its members. The other members, who will not be able to sit in the space would then have to be accommodated in public galleries on the first floor and in the lobbies, as opined by a few experts.
Another idea could be that the Central Hall between both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha chambers, which is used for joint sittings in the Parliament could be treated as Rajya Sabha Chamber. They could not use it as the Lok Sabha Chamber because it would be inadequate for the Lok Sabha MPs. But, Vigyan Bhawan’s huge auditorium could the Lok Sabha Chamber but this idea was dropped because of some functionality concerns. Therefore, the only way to conduct the session would use the Central Hall as the additional chamber to the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha Chamber. However, this technique of functionality won’t work if both the Houses would have sessions simultaneously.
The Odd-Even Formula could be used in two ways, as follows –
- The sessions for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to be held in two separate timings i.e., either of the two House to conduct the session at any hour in the morning and the other to conduct the session in the evening hours of the day. Or;
- The sessions for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to be held on an alternate day basis, as this would be more medically stable and proper sanitization could be followed.
Both ways would enable the members to use the three premises which could be well connected with the video links and sound system to help the members take part in the discussions and voting.
Guidelines of the Lok Sabha Secretariat
On 3rd July 2020, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued guidelines for meetings of parliamentary standing committees where the members would be present physically. Some guidelines are as follows:
- The Sanitiser should be available at the entrance of the committee room
- The sitting arrangement should strictly adhere to the social distancing norms of six feet
- No printed material is allowed to be used, all relevant material to be sent in soft copy format
- Bags of the members are also not allowed inside
- The Ministry or the Departments to restrict the number of officials to a maximum of five
- In case more officials are coming from a specific Ministry than the arrangement of their sitting is to be made in the lobby
The Parliament is the supreme law-making body of India governed by the Indian Constitution. This is the place where the representatives of Indian states meet and discuss various matters. It is a body that functions in its physical form. While discussions, there, if someone has to show opposition it is done in a certain way. Similarly, support could also be shown.
While dealing with the sessions in an online mode, the practical essence can’t be felt of the sessions. Also, in video conferencing, there are certain security concerns, which can’t be compromised with. The need for each MP to represent his/ her view is the real reason for which the Parliament is constituted. In Pandemic Era, it might be difficult for MPs to travel from their home constituencies to Delhi. So, for which, the Hybrid form of discussion could be looked for as the only solution. There could be certain MPs attending the session physically while the other attending via virtual mode with a secured internet connection.
The Parliament, the law-making body, is still unaware of its fate. The Covid-19 pandemic had affected the Parliament’s across the World in many ways. Each country is coming up with their techniques to deal with the situation. Various MPs had earlier tested positive for Covid-19 and there could be a possibility of other members getting tested positive if the Monsoon session is held in the Parliament’s premises. The space in the Parliament is not enough to carry the MPs and therefore, there are high chances of not social distancing norms successfully. There are many ideas put forth such as conducting the sessions in a hybrid manner, or through video conferencing or by using the area of the Central Hall. How the “Monsoon Session” would be conducted is yet to be seen.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Ques 1: What is Article 79 of the Indian Constitution?
Ans: Constitution of Parliament: There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses to be known respectively as the council of States and the House of the People.
Ques 2: Which Article of the Indian Constitution deals with the Sessions of the Parliament of India?
Ans: Article 85
Ques 3: What is the Monsoon Session of the Parliament?
Ans: Both the Houses of the Parliament, in July (generally) discusses on matters of public interest. The bills could be put forward by various MPs in this session.
Ques 4: Which video conferencing app is used by the government for meetings nowadays?
Ans: The government had advised the departments to use the official video conferencing services by National Informatic Centre (NIC).
Ques 5: Did the ministers put forth the need to conduct the sessions of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha through video conferencing?
Ans: Yes, various ministers put forth the opinion to conduct sessions via video conferencing but the advice was not worked upon
[i] New Parliament building likely by 2022, says Modi , livemint.com, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/new-parliament-building-likely-by-2022-says-modi-1566272217715.html (last visited August 6, 2020)
[ii] Dushyant Singh Trail = Virus Panic: Met Mary Kom, Hema Malini, Other MPs, NDTV, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/coronavirus-panic-over-dushyant-singh-trail-met-hema-malini-mary-kom-many-more-mps-2198193 (last visited August 6, 2020)
[iii] Amit Shah hospitalised after testing Covid positive; Yediyurappa too catches virus, The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/home-minister-amit-shah-coronavirus-covid-19-6535867/ (last visited August 6, 2020)
[iv] Here’s how India’s Parliament could safely conduct its monsoon session amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Scroll.in https://scroll.in/article/968272/how-can-indias-parliament-safely-conduct-its-monsoon-session-amid-the-covid-19-pandemic (last visited August 6, 2020).
[v] Amid Rising Covid-19 Cases In Delhi, Parliament Gears Up For Monsoon Session, Outlook – The Fully Loaded Magazine, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-amid-rising-covid-19-cases-in-delhi-parliament-gears-up-for-monsoon-session/356003 (last visited August 6, 2020)