Surge in COVID-19 cases | Amid Omicron surge, protocols for Budget session under review

With a spate of COVID cases both within and outside Parliament, Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla have directed officials to frame a protocol for the Budget session, which is less than three-weeks away.

Nearly 400 staffers working at the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha secretariats have tested positive between January 4-8. Both houses have directed their staff to come on a rotational basis, allowing only 50% attendance at any given time.

No panel meetings

In a parallel development, following the request of some members, meetings of the parliamentary standing committees have been temporarily stopped. In the last couple of days, according to sources, at least half a dozen meetings have been cancelled.

The cancellation of these meetings has reignited the debate on allowing virtual meetings of the parliamentary panels. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh who heads the standing committee on science and technology, said he had to cancel a crucial meeting on Wildlife Amendment Bill, 2021.

In a tweet he further said, “I requested the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha on the last day of the Winter Session to allow online meetings of Standing Committees. And yet again this was disallowed. Now, important Committee meetings are being put off. I simply cannot understand why online meetings cannot be held!”

Venkaiah worried

According to sources, worried by the rising cases, Mr. Naidu spoke to Mr. Birla. Following their conversation, secretary generals of both Houses have been asked to review the adequacy of the COVID protocol followed during the winter session in the context of the present scenario of rapidly spreading infections.

The monsoon session in August 2020 was the first full session held under COVID protocols with Rajya Sabha meeting in the first half of the day and Lok Sabha during second half. The same was followed for the first part of the Budget session during February 2021. For the second part of the Budget session, and the monsoon and winter sessions last year, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha reverted to normal timings but members were seated in the chambers and galleries of respective Houses.

The Secretary Generals have been asked to come up with a detailed plan, especially in view of the high transmission rate of the Omicron strain.

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