RT-PCR tests for MPs; Zero, Question hours back in Budget session
A full, hour-long Question Hour, a separate slot for Zero Hour— both key for MPs seeking answers from the government—will return in the upcoming budget session of Parliament, which is expected to see the opposition attacking the ruling dispensation over the controversial farm laws and the WhatsApp chats of journalist Arnab Goswami.
The suspension of Question Hour during the monsoon session was strongly criticised by opposition parties.
The Rajya Sabha will sit from 9 am to 2 pm followed by the Lok Sabha, from 4 pm to 9 pm, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla announced on Tuesday after his meeting with health and security experts.
As MPs don’t have priority access to Covid-19 vaccines before the session, RT-PCR tests will be done for all MPs, their families, and their assistants. “We will set up counters in Parliament building and places such as North Avenue and South Avenue where MPs reside. We have also written to states to make arrangements if an MP wants to get tested in his constituency,” Birla said.
The upcoming budget session, the first session of this year will take place after 2020 saw two sessions being cut short and the winter session being scrapped on account of the pandemic. While the number of Covid-19 cases in the capital has fallen , Parliament authorities will ensure maximum protection for members and officials , including a blanket ban on visitors, strict social distancing and the use of masks and other measures as more than 30 lawmakers tested Covid positive during the last session. Three MPs have so far succumbed to the disease that has claimed around 150,000 lives in the country.
The Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman are expected to meet leaders of political parties on January 28 but political tempers are already running high over the farmer protests and the recent developments related to the WhatsApp transcripts of Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, which are part of the charge sheet filed by the Mumbai Police in a case involving the rigging of television ratings.
Birla, however, maintained that the all-party meetings and the business advisory committee will decide the subjects for debate, pointing out that what happens outside Parliament doesn’t automatically turn into an issue for the session. “I have not received any proposal for debates so far. We will discuss all issues in the meeting with parties. We will try to convey the voice of people to the government via parliament,” said Birla.
Birla also announced that physical copies of budget papers are unlikely to be available as the ministry will provide digital copies, a move aimed at environment friendliness.
The session will start with President Ram Nath Kovind addressing both Houses on January 29, followed by the presentation of the first Covid-era budget on February 1. The debate on the President’s speech will be the first topic for debate before budgets of individual ministries and the finance bill come up for debate.
The Speaker is also hopeful that the attendance of MPs during the session will be satisfactory since the number of Covid cases in the country has declined. India’s current seven-day average of 14,678 cases a day is the lowest in seven months.