The sweeping pandemic, which shows no signs of abating, has led to many changes in the way business is to be conducted during this session   | Photo Credit: PTI

Monsoon session kicks off with MPs scattered and safely masked

359 of 540 lawmakers attend Day 1; MPs seated in Rajya Sabha connected via LED screens


Throughout the four hours that the Lok Sabha sat on Monday (less an hour adjournment over obituary references), the phrase most frequently heard and which best described the very act of holding the session was “extraordinary circumstances”.

The sweeping pandemic, which shows no signs of abating, has led to many changes in the way business is to be conducted during this session, not least of which was the holding of both Houses in separate four hour shifts, and seating spread over both Houses, and the visitors galleries.

According to an estimate by sources in Parliament, 359 out of 540 Lok Sabha members turned up, despite at least 25 MPs (from both Houses) said to have tested positive for COVID-19.

Veterans in attendance

Veteran lawmakers including National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, the latter on a wheel chair, also made it to Day One of the session, despite exemption from attendance being granted to members over 65 years. Prime Minister Modi entered the Lok Sabha to applause from the treasury benches, and kept his three-ply mask on at all times, an example followed by all MPs.

This sense of participation led Speaker Om Birla to thank all members, even those Lok Sabha MPs ploughing a lonely furrow in the sparsely occupied Rajya Sabha, visible to their colleagues in the Lok Sabha via an LED screen.

“This is possibly for the first time in the history of this Parliament that Lok Sabha MPs are sitting the Rajya Sabha and in the galleries. We always say that our attempt is to shorten the distance between the people and their representatives, but, under these extraordinary circumstances, we have had to keep distance between ourselves too,” said Mr Birla.

Separate seating

Every party leader had been given a bunch of seats according to their strength and asked to divide the seating by four, some to be seated in Lok Sabha, some in Lok Sabha galleries, some in Rajya Sabha and some in Rajya Sabha galleries. The Telegu Desam Party (TDP) with just three MPs faced a piquant situation, where one MP was seated in the Lok Sabha, another in the gallery of that House, and a third in the Rajya Sabha. Those seated in Rajya Sabha looked a forlorn lot, a presence only via a TV screen, which is why perhaps Union Ministers Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan were despatched to keep them company.

Another aspect of this session under “extraordinary circumstances” was that MPs were asked to be seated while addressing the House. A situation that proved difficult to master when the reflex is to stand and declaim. A fiery speech while seated possibly doesn’t have the same impact.

Parliament is usually a space for much collegial joshing, but MPs mingled only during the break for orbituary references and made haste to leave Parliament once the day’s sitting was done.

However, the government managed to get seven Bills introduced and one Bill passed, and the Opposition managed to raise objections to almost every one of them, and thus was parliamentary democracy reinvented for these “extraordinary circumstances.”