As India grapples with the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, propelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the government is gearing up to convene the Budget Session of Parliament this month-end with strict social distancing and other protocols in place.
The government, sources said, has proposed that the Budget session be convened from January 31 to April 8 with a month-long break in between.
According to the proposal, the first half of the session will conclude on February 11 after the customary President’s address to the joint sitting of the two Houses, tabling of the Economic Survey, presentation of the Budget and discussion on the President’s address.
The second half of the session will commence on March 14 and end on April 8.
The Budget session will take place amid indications that the third wave is still to peak. But the government is hard pressed as presentation of the Annual Financial Statement, popularly known as the Budget, is a constitutional requirement which cannot be done away with.
What is a serious concern though is the fact that a large number of Parliamentary staff — over 700 until Thursday — have tested positive since January 4.
According to sources, 718 of those tested in the Parliament complex have tested positive so far. “These include 204 people in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Rest of the cases were reported from the Lok Sabha Secretariat and allied services,” sources said. Most of those who tested positive are said to be asymptomatic.
If the cases don’t ebb, sources said the Budget session could witness restrictions as was seen during the monsoon session of 2020.
For safe passage
Parliament is being convened at a time when there’s a surge in Covid cases. Safety protocols will require distancing, repeated tests, perhaps staggered schedules to keep the Budget session going. The 2020 monsoon session stringent protocols may be revisited to ensure safe conduct of proceedings.
Held in September 2020, the monsoon session was the first full session held under strict Covid protocol with the Rajya Sabha meeting in the first half of the day and Lok Sabha during the second half and members of both the Houses sitting in both the chambers.
The same protocols were followed during the first part of the Budget session last year.
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha reverted to normal timings for the second part of the Budget session, monsoon and winter sessions last year, but social distancing norms and some restrictions were still in place with members sitting in the chambers as well as galleries in both Houses.
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “The Covid situation is bad. Cases are spreading fast. But the Budget session has to be called. Otherwise, government spending will come to a halt. We don’t want that. But we would urge the government to follow all protocols and take the decision after consulting health experts to see what all precautions are required to be taken. The government should discuss all aspects with health experts and give weightage to their suggestions.”
Sources said Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla earlier this week directed the Secretary Generals of both the Houses to “examine in detail the prevailing scenario of spread of Covid-19 and suggest effective measures for safe conduct of the Budget session.”
Taking stock of the situation, Naidu and Birla favoured review of the “adequacy” of Covid protocol followed during the winter session when cases were low. The Secretary Generals, sources said, have been asked to submit their proposals at the earliest.