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Monsoon Session of Parliament to witness many first-time measures in view of COVID-19

Various parties will be allotted seats in the chamber and galleries of Rajya Sabha based on respective strength and the remaining will be seated in the chamber of Lok Sabha.

Hectic preparations are underway for the Monsoon Session of Parliament with several first-time measures in view of the COVID-19 pandemic such as staggered sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and use of both chambers and galleries to accommodate members while following physical distancing norms, officials said. The Monsoon Session is likely to begin in the last week of August or early September. According to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, members of the Upper House will be seated in both chambers and galleries during the session.

This is the first time in the history of Indian Parliament since 1952 that such an arrangement will be in place, where 60 members will be seated in the chamber and 51 in the galleries of Rajya Sabha and the remaining 132 in the chamber of Lok Sabha. Similar seating arrangements are being worked out by the Lok Sabha Secretariat as well. For the first time, large display screens and consoles for participation from galleries, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, special cables between the two Houses and polycarbonate separators will be in place.

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Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla at a meeting on July 17, after detailed examination of various options for holding the session, decided on using the chambers and galleries of both the Houses. Naidu has directed officials to complete preparations for the session by the third week of August when testing, rehearsal and final inspection would be carried out. The Rajya Sabha Secretariat has been working overtime for the last two weeks to ensure full preparedness, officials said.

While both Houses usually function simultaneously, this time due to extraordinary circumstances, one House will sit during morning hours and the other in the evening, sources say. The last Budget Session of Parliament had to be curtailed in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and both Houses were adjourned sine die on March 23. As per precedent, Parliament has to be convened before the end of six months from the last session.

Work is in progress at fast pace for ensuring several additional installations in the prescribed time which include installation of four large display screens in the House chamber, six small screens in the four galleries, audio consoles in galleries, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, special cables connecting the two Houses for transmission of audio-visual signals and polycarbonate sheet separating the officers gallery from the chamber, Rajya Sabha Secretariat officials said. They said the arrangements mark the first-of-its-kind session to be held in compliance with social distancing norms to check the spread of COVID-19.

Subsequently, senior officials of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat held detailed discussions with agencies concerned and firmed up special arrangements to be made and they are being worked upon. Various parties will be allotted seats in the chamber and galleries of Rajya Sabha based on respective strength and the remaining will be seated in the chamber of Lok Sabha in two blocks meant for ruling parties and the others, they said. Inside the Rajya Sabha chamber, seats will be earmarked for the Prime Minister, Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition and leaders of other parties.

Former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H D Deve Gowda, besides Union ministers and Rajya Sabha members Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale, will also have earmarked seats in the chamber of the House. Other ministers will be seated in the seats meant for the ruling party members. All the seats in the galleries are being fitted with consoles to enable participation of members in the proceedings of the House from their seats. Placards will indicate the parties accommodated in each gallery of the Rajya Sabha.

Special cables are being laid connecting the two Houses of Parliament for transmitting audio-visual signals of the proceedings both ways without any time lag to enable real-time participation of members seated in the two Houses. Polycarbonate sheets will separate the Officials Gallery of Rajya Sabha from the chamber as both are in close proximity, the RS secretariat said. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation system in the air conditioning system of Rajya Sabha for killing the bacteria and virus in air supply is also under consideration, it said.

Seating in the Officials Gallery and Press Gallery will also be in conformity with social distancing norm, each accommodating 15 persons. Only a limited number of secretariat officials will be seated at the Table of the House and the Reporters (for taking verbatim note of proceedings of the House) will be accommodated in the special box meant for foreign dignitaries, the officials said. The three interpretation booths of Rajya Sabha will be integrated with audio systems for simultaneous interpretation for the benefit of the members seated in both the Houses.

RSTV and LSTV, through their existing arrangements in both the Houses, will enable live telecast of the proceedings of the two Houses besides displaying the proceedings of each of the Houses on the screens in the other House, the secretariat said. Naidu has also directed officials to minimize the need for members to physically handle various papers by ensuring necessary arrangements, officials said.

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