COVID-19: Amid Omicron boom, protocol for budget session under review

New Delhi: With COVID cases piling up both inside and outside Parliament, Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla have directed officials to prepare a protocol for the Budget session, which is less than three weeks away.

Around 400 employees working in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariat have tested positive between January 4-8. Both houses have directed their staff to come in turn, allowing only 50% attendance at any given time.

In a parallel development, following requests from some members, the meetings of the Parliamentary Standing Committees have been temporarily put on hold. According to sources, at least half a dozen meetings have been canceled in the last few days.

The cancellation of these meetings has restarted the debate on allowing virtual meetings of parliamentary panels. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who heads the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, said he had to cancel an important meeting on the Wildlife Amendment Bill, 2021.

In a tweet, he further said, “I requested the Chairman of Rajya Sabha to allow online meetings of Standing Committees on the last day of the winter session. And again it was not allowed. Now important committee meetings are being postponed. I just can’t understand why online meetings can’t be held!”

According to sources, concerned about the rising number of cases, Mr. Naidu spoke to Mr. Birla. Following their talks, the Secretaries-General of both the Houses have been asked to review the adequacy of the COVID Protocol adopted during the Winter Session in the context of the current scenario of rapidly spreading infections.

The monsoon session in August 2020 was the first plenary session held under the COVID protocol, with Rajya Sabha meeting during the first half of the day and Lok Sabha during the second half. The same was done for the first part of the budget session during February 2021. For the second part of the budget session, and for the monsoon and winter sessions last year, the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha returned to normal times, but the members were sitting in the chambers. and the Gallery of the respective Houses.

The Secretary General has been asked to come up with a detailed plan, especially given the high transmission rate of the Omicron strain.